December is one of the most magical times to be in New York City – although it is also one of the busiest times and when the city is really crowded. Walking the streets, seeing the decorations, listening to a Christmas carol – all these things are extraordinary when you are here. It’s a unique experience! In addition to all the traditional things to do in the city, you can have an intense Christmas schedule. In this post, I’m gonna share a massive guide with things to do in the city at this time of the year!
To keep in mind: this post contains affiliate links – it costs you nothing more to buy for them and you support my work!
How is the weather in New York in December?
- Although winter only officially starts on December 21st, the weather definitely doesn’t feel like Fall. Expect temperatures between 0°C | 32F to 6°C | 42F
- At the beginning of the month, the sun rises around 7 am and sets at 4:29 pm. This changes gradually until the end of the month, when the sun rises at 7:19 am and sets at 4:38 pm. So keep this in mind when organizing your activities!
- Over the first few weeks, expect averages between 0°C | 32F and 9°C° | 48F. Then, at the end of the month, you can expect standards between -2ºC | 28 F and 4ºC | 40F. And, of course, it feels like temps are always lower than that.
- How to choose the right winter coat – a complete guide!
- Winter outfit: first and second layers guide!
Stores & Malls
A free and magical thing to do at Christmas time in New York is to check out the windows of department stores in the city. It’s a show of beauty and extravaganza. Each year, the stores surprise the public with their creations. In addition, many of them offer special things to do for the season. Check it out below:
Located at Herald Square, Macy’s is one of the most popular shopping destinations for tourists visiting NYC. For the Christmas season, in addition to the shop windows, visitors can also check out Santaland, the village of Santa Claus. A magical installation that is gonna please everyone, especially the kids. Remember that you need to schedule a time to visit Santaland and meet Santa Claus. It’s free and you can click here to make your reservation – BY RESERVATION ONLY.
- Macy’s – 151 W 34th St.
- From 11/24 to 12/24 – reservations open on 11/19
Saks Fifth Avenue
Saks Fifth Avenue is one of the most famous stores in the city and on Fifth Avenue – and it is one of the highlights in the city when it comes to the decor at this time of year. In addition to the shop windows, the entire storefront becomes a nightly attraction with the Theater of Dreams light show. It is too beautiful! The light show will run every 10 minutes between 4:35 p.m. and 10:35 p.m. through Jan. 3. Shop windows can be seen at any time of day – but expect to find some crowds, as they are probably the most famous shop windows in the city.
- 611 5th Ave – Starts on November 20th.
Another classic location when it comes to Christmas decor is Cartier. The store building becomes a huge gift – and this year the decor is different from the previous years, with more golden lights. A luxury!
- Cartier – 653 5th Ave.
Also, take note of two more department stores to check the Christmas windows:
- Bergdorf Goodman – 754 5th Ave
- Bloomingdale’s – 1000 Third Avenue
You will find installations of larger-than-life, illuminated toys along Fifth Avenue from 51st Street to 59th Street.
- 611 5th Ave – TBA
- Remember that eleven blocks of Fifth Avenue — from West 48th Street to West 57th Street — will be closed off to traffic and opened only for pedestrians on Dec. 4, Dec. 11 and Dec. 18 from noon to 6 p.m.
It is undoubtedly one of the most impressive holiday displays in the city. More than two million lights, including 725 evergreen trees and hot air balloons displayed both indoors and outdoors. Starts on November 13th.
Holiday Under the Stars is the Shops at Columbus Circle’s Holiday installation, with 12 giant stars hanging from the ceiling. This is presented as the largest handcrafted exhibition of illuminated color displays in the world. Go to the second Floor to enjoy a daily 5-minute musical light show every half hour starting around 5pm.
Also, this year they brought back the annual Broadway Under the Stars, a free concert series held on select Wednesday nights throughout November and December. Guests get an exclusive chance to see performances with cast members from Broadway’s hottest musicals. Check the calendar!
- 10 Columbus Cir – TBA
This Christmas tradition at Brookfield Place in Downtown features dozens of colored lights emanating from hundreds of suspended lanterns. This interactive exhibit features three “wish stations” located on the Floor, which allow visitors to send a touch-activated wish to the lanterns, activating a magical display of lights and colors. Check out a unique light show every hour with Christmas carols from 8 am to 10 pm.
- 230 Vesey St – TBA
Westfield World Trade Center
The mall, also known as “Oculus,” in Downtown, brings back Oculus Holiday Market by Brik + Clik, located in the mall’s main hall. The decor is super cute, and you will undoubtedly get cute pics! Plus, they curated gifting ideas into six easy-to-shop categories.
This neighborhood is famous for the Christmas extravaganza – families here take Christmas lights seriously! There are thousands of colored lights in many houses, illuminating the streets, attracting many tourists to the area. The tradition began in 1984, and now the place attracts about 100,000 tourists every year who visit the neighborhood to check this decorating show.
To get there, you need to take the subway – D line to 79St station or R to 86th St. As the area is far away from the station, you need to take a bus – check out Google Maps – and get off at 13th Avenue. If you wish, there’s a special tour to visit Dyker Heights and other locations.
Parade on Rockaway
For 7 years Parade On Rockaway has brought Hope to Jamaica, Queens! After Hurricane Sandy, Jamaica, Queens needed a sign of hope and the Parade on Rockaway was born. Since then, every year (even when a pandemic hit) this parade has brought joy, hope, and Christmas to our borough. The parade is going to take place on December 3rd, and you can check more info here.
Plus, you should also check these Christmas trees in NYC as well:
Things to do
Bronx Zoo Holiday Nights
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The park comes to life during the evenings with holiday cheer as immersive light displays, custom-designed animal lanterns and animated light shows sparkle across the zoo. The outdoor celebration is complete with festive entertainment, seasonal treats and classic holiday music. The walk-through experience is a beloved tradition, enchanting and fun for all ages. Check this video to have an idea of the event.
- November 17, 2023 — January 7, 2024. Buy tickets.
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This holiday season, explore Brooklyn Botanic Garden like never before at the after-dark, illuminated spectacular Lightscape. Join with family and friends to celebrate the beauty of nature in winter on this enchanting trail animated by a curated soundtrack and over one million dazzling lights. Discover international showstoppers like the Winter Cathedral tunnel, Fire Garden, and Sea of Light, as well as new works by local artists, including a series of poems by celebrated author Jacqueline Woodson written in light. Check this video to have an idea of the event!
- November 17, 2023–January 1, 2024. Buy tickets.
Where to meet Santa in NYC
If you have kids and you want them to meet with Santa, here are some suggestions – dates to be announced
- Hudson Yards – Level 4, near Zara – check dates and times
- Plaza Hotel – lobby – check dates and times – see Santa Claus is Coming to Town
- Macy’s Santaland – check dates and times.
More Holiday Experiences
Papillon Bistro & Bar
This French restaurant has amazing Christmas decorations. The food is ok, so I would recommend going for a drink and maybe ordering an appetizer – and, of course, enjoying the beautiful decor. Check the website for more details.
- 22nd and 54th St.
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I absolutely LOVE this bar! It is probably the most beautiful bar I’ve ever been to in New York City! The arts and objects collection used in the decor are from different parts of the world like Paris and London. The highlight here is the craft cocktails selection. I recommend Hotel D’Alsace, with gym and lavender extract. The food bites are also really good – loved the truffled arancini. And they change the decor every season and now it’s all about Christmas.
45 W 27th St.
The fancy Peninsula hotel has this stunning Holiday rooftop. Chalet de Ning is comprised of two chalet-inspired domes furnished with stylish interiors and a freestanding chimenea to keep everyone warm and cozy. You can enjoy a carefully crafted menu featuring specialty cocktails and seasonal dishes inspired by the Engadin region of Switzerland. Check the website.
- 700 5th Ave Floor 23
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This year, the theme of Ready Rooftop’s seasonal pop-up is Holiday Disco. See the video above. Information and reservations.
Watermark Winter Wonderland
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Watermark Winter Wonderland is an outdoor holiday experience perched at the end of the beautiful Pier 15. Enjoy amazing waterfront views, warm seasonal drinks, holiday decorations and more with friends and family! It features heated glasshouses, holiday lights, and treats like hot chocolate, hot cider, fondue, and s’mores! For reservations and more info click here – remember you have to pay to reserve one of the glass houses.
- General Admission – includes entry to the experience plus 1 hot beverage! Choose from hot chocolate or cider (both available regular or spiked at no extra charge) + 1 food item from Santa’s Snack Shack (warm pretzel, cinnamon sugar churro, or velvet chocolate chip cookies). This is an outdoor experience; Glasshouse seating is not included
- VIP General Admission – includes everything in the General Admission ticket plus express entry on the VIP line + a complimentary Santa hat. This is an outdoor experience; Glasshouse seating is not included
- Glasshouse and Cocktail Chalet – includes entry to the experience plus reserved seating in a heated igloo, 1 entrée per guest from Santa’s Kitchen menu included (optional à la carte appetizer menu and entrée upgrades available), a server to take your orders + complimentary Santa hats
Disney’s The Santa Clauses’ Winter Wonderland at Pier 17
Disney’s The Santa Clauses Winter Wonderland is coming to The Rooftop at Pier 17, a 65,000 square-foot venue with panoramic views of NYC’s iconic skyline. The experience features Manhattan’s only rooftop skating rink, the private glass houses and Santa’s living room.
Frost Fest at Luna Park
For the first time in its 120-year history, the iconic Luna Park in Coney Island will be open for the winter. The “Frost Fest” opens Nov. 18 and will run right through the holiday season, ending on Jan. 7 (Select Weekdays & Holidays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays). Visitors will experience a thrilling winter destination boasting a skating rink, select rides and attractions, holiday lights & décor, photos with Santa, holiday shopping, festive food options to fulfill the cravings of New Yorkers and visitors alike, and more!
A classic performance! Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes or just Rockettes premiered in 1933 and has been running every year since then. It is a celebration of Christmas, bringing together beliefs, fantasies, and imaginary stories related to the holiday. There are several performances with exciting music. The orchestra is amazing and their work makes all the difference in the experience. Performances from November 17th to January 1st. How to get tickets:
Candlelight: Holiday Carols on Strings
Candlelight concerts bring the magic of a live, multi-sensory musical experience to awe-inspiring locations like never seen before in New York. Get your tickets now to discover the music of Holiday Carols on Strings at The Opera House under the gentle glow of candlelight.
Big Apple Circus
A New York City beloved classic. The Big Apple Circus experience includes a one-ring circus show presented in a Big Top tent, exhibition elements, a food and beverage and retail experience, and a range of interactive moments and photo opportunities. In 2023, The Big Apple Circus welcomes Europe’s beloved Circus-Theater Roncalli to New York City for a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration and an all-new show, Journey to the Rainbow, with 14 circus and variety acts from around the world in addition to a company of local dancers and 8 live musicians.
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker® is one of the most complex theatrical, staged ballets in the New York City Ballet’s active repertory. The popularity of the ballet is immense and it provides an unforgettable spark to everyone’s holiday season. All 90 dancers, 62 musicians, 40 stagehands and more than 125 children, in two alternating casts, from the School of American Ballet join forces to make each performance as magical as possible. Performances from 11/24 to 12/31.
‘Twas the Night Before… by Cirque du Soleil
Twas the Night Before… by Cirque du Soleil returns to NYC this holiday season at The Theater at Madison Square Garden from December 7 – 28. A thrilling interpretation of the well-known Christmas classic, this joyful show about the virtues of generosity and friendship promises to leave a lasting impression on families this holiday season. ‘Twas the Night Before…, Cirque du Soleil’s first-ever holiday production, is a whirlwind of love, holiday cheer, riotous fun, and adorably endearing characters – I had the pleasure to attend this performance in 2021 and wow… I was speechless! Children younger than 24 months may attend without the purchase of a ticket. However, they may not occupy their own separate seat and must sit on a parent or guardian’s lap.
Jingle Ball takes place at Madison Square Garden, on December 1st, with performances from Olivia Rodrigo, One Republic, Jelly Roy and more. Buy your tickets.
Mariah Carey is back with her traditional Christmas concert in two dates: December 9th and 17th
Andrea Bocelli will bring his Holiday Tour 2023 with special guest Zucchero to the Madison Square Garden on December 13 & 14.
Company XIV Nutcracker Rouge
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Austin McCormick and his neo-baroque theater and dance group Company XIV present an erotic reimagining of the classic tale, featuring circus performers, opera singers and partial nudity. Buy your tickets.
Big Band Holidays
Every December, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis brings this holiday extravaganza to Rose Theater for a series of sold-out performances. With soulful big band arrangements of songs both sacred and secular, Big Band Holidays is an uplifting tradition enjoyed by audiences of all ages and backgrounds. In addition to some swinging JLCO instrumentals and music direction by JLCO trumpeter Marcus Printup, special guest vocalist Alita Moses joins the band each season for imaginative new versions of classics like “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” “What Child is This,” and “Jingle Bells.” From December 13th to December 17th. Buy your tickets.
Handel’s Messiah at Riverside Church
The Messiah of Messiahs! Dazzling vocal solos, instrumental fireworks, and splendid choral writing combine to make this oratorio the musical crown of the season. Grammy-winning Baroque specialist Jeannette Sorrell conducts the Philharmonic in the Neo-Gothic glory of Riverside Church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Performances between December 13th and December 17th. Buy your tickets.
Classic Harbor Line promotes several Holiday cruises during this time of year. Cruises are made aboard a luxury motorized yacht, with plenty of stability. As a relatively small yacht, the tours are more intimate and less crowded than other tourist cruises. For this Christmas season, the yacht’s main cabin will be warm, cozy, and decorated.
- Holiday Brunch cruise – On this 2.75 hour cruise, you will completely circumnavigate the entire island of Manhattan (passing under all 18 bridges) while taking in picturesque views from our glassed-in observatory. The ticket includes a three-course prix fixe menu served at your private table. On Sundays. $124 per person. Reserve your spot.
- Cocoa & Carols Holiday Cruise -a exceptional warm and cozy cruise tailored for friends, family, and all your loved ones during the Holiday Season. 1.5-hour cruise to see the New York City lights while you enjoy delicious Hot Cocoa, Cookies, and treats. Reserve your spot.
- Holiday Jazz Cruise – another special warm and cozy cruise tailored for friends, family, and all your loved ones during the Holiday Season. 1.5-hour cruise to see the New York City lights with live Holiday Jazz Trio while enjoying Champagne, Hot Cocoa, Cookies, and treats. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Reserve your spot.
Holiday markets are also a great choice during this time of year. You’ll find treats such as donuts and hot chocolate, gifts and decor items – and, of course, experience that unique Holiday atmosphere!
- Union Square Holiday Market – from November 16th to December 24th. Monday-Friday – 11am-8pm. Saturday 10am-8pm. Sunday 11am – 7pm.
Winter Village Bryant Park – Until January 2nd. Monday-Friday 11am-8pm. Saturday/Sunday 10am-8pm.
Christmas Mass – st. Patrick
St Patrick Cathedral will have some celebrations for Christmas and New Year. See below and check details here.
Christmas Eve – December 24th
- 8:00 AM,12:00 Noon, 1:00 PM (No ticket required for the 1pm)
- Christmas Eve Family Mass, 5:30PM – (No ticket required)
Christmas Day – December 25th
- Midnight Christmas Mass, 12:00 AM – Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Celebrant (Ticket Required)*
- Christmas Day: 7:00 AM, 8:00 AM, 9:00 AM, 10:15 AM, 12:00 Noon, 1:00 PM, & 4:00 PM (Spanish), 5:30 PM (No ticket Required)
New Year’s Eve – December 31st
- 8:00 AM,12:00 Noon, 1:00 PM, 5:30 PM (No ticket required)
New Year’s Day – January 1st
- 7:00 AM, 8:00 AM, 9:00 AM, 10:15 AM, 12:00 Noon, 1:00 PM, 4:00 PM,5:30 PM (No ticket required)
Christmas Cruises – lunch | dinner
City Cruises offers some cruises for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Boats depart from Chelsea Piers (23th Street & 11th Ave). You will have views to Midtown, including Empire State Building, besides One World Trade Center, and the iconic Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge – and, of course, the Statue of Liberty.
- Christmas Cruise – dinner – December 24th – 2h30 min cruise | Delicious dinner buffet with freshly prepared entrees, salads and desserts | Unlimited coffee, hot tea, iced tea, and water | Live Music | Holiday Decor. Price: starts at $139,90 per person. Click here to reserve your spot!
- Christmas Cruise – dinner – December 24th – 2h30 min cruise | A three-course plated dinner with attentive tableside service | Unlimited coffee, hot tea, iced tea, and water | Live Music | Holiday Decor. Price: starts at $161,90 per person. Click here to reserve your spot!
- Christmas Dy cruise – brunch – December 25th – 2h30 min cruise | Delicious dinner buffet with freshly prepared entrees, salads, and desserts | Unlimited coffee, hot tea, iced tea, and water | Live Music | Holiday Decor. Price: starts at $105 per person. Click here to reserve your spot!
Restaurants for Christmas dinner or lunch
A lot of people ask me for recs regarding Christmas Eve dinner or Christmas lunch. But at the end of the day, all I do is open these websites, search, and then copy and paste. That said, I think the best person to pick a restaurant for Christmas Eve or Christmas lunch is yourself. You know your budget and your preferences, so my suggestion is to check OpenTable and Resy and browse the options there – I don’t even need to reiterate that reservations are essential, right? Filter by the type of food you like. Remember that prices per person for this date start at a minimum of $100.
Also, check what it is open for Christmas:
It is very important to purchase your tickets for attractions in advance during Christmas season. When purchasing through the links below, you get a 10% discount using the code LP10OFF. You can enter the code right after selecting the number of tickets – before the payment page. Below the number of tickets, you will see the space: “Do you have a promotional code? Add it now”.
Some ticketed attractions open on December 24th:
Some ticketed attractions open on December 25th:
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Content creator and journalist in New York City. Here, I share lifestyle, beauty, NYC tips, thoughts, and the struggles about living in the most amazing city in the world! I’m not gonna pretend to be another person: I’m a Brazilian immigrant and I think this is my soul, it is part of who I am. I hope you enjoy my content! Follow me on Instagram!