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NYC’s Christmas Guide – Things to do in New York for the Holidays

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!

Christmas Decorations

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:

Macy’s Santaland

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. This year, 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.

  • Macy’s – 151 W 34th St.
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 takes place every 10 minutes from 4:30 pm to 11:30 pm. 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 – until December 26th.
Cartier

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
Plaza Hotel

The Plaza Hotel, the one featured on “Home Alone 2”, is also an excellent spot for those who love Christmas decor. In addition to the amazing tree in the lobby, the Pulitzer Fountain, which is in front of the hotel, has a special installation this year. There are 32 handcrafted-in-Brooklyn animal sculptures, 5,000 feet of lighting, an ice-skating rink, and 24 handmade icebergs surrounding the Pulitzer Fountain, with orchestrated music from composer Paul Brill. Plus, you will find installations of larger-than-life, illuminated toys along Fifth Avenue from 51st Street to 59th Street. 

  • 611 5th Ave – until January 7th.
Hudson Yards

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.

Columbus Circle

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 from 5 pm to 11 pm.

  • 10 Columbus Cir – until January 3rd.
Brookfield Place

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 – until January 2nd.
Westfield World Trade Center

The mall, also known as “Oculus,” in Downtown, brings back its Christmas market, located in the mall’s main hall. The decor is super cute, and you will undoubtedly get cute pics!

Dyker Heights

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 want, A Slice of Brooklyn offers special bus tours, departing from Union Square – $50 per ticket. It is a long ride – about an hour from Midtown!

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 event is going to take place on December 4th, and you can check more info here.

Christmas Trees

Rockefeller Center
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is a Christmas icon in New York City. The tree remains lit and on display in the square between 48th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues until early 2022. Remember that the tree lights up every day from 6 am to midnight. On Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, the lights shine for 24 hours. The tree will be lit on December 1st.

Plus, you should also check these Christmas trees in NYC as well:

Things to do

NYC Winter Lantern Festival

NYC Winter Lantern Festival at Snug Harbor Cultural Center is back for a third year to transform the botanical garden into an immersive world of light, with over 8 acres of luminescence. In addition to the lantern display, the event will have a live DJ, projection mapping, food vendors, and more. You can check this video to have an idea of the event.

Bronx Zoo Holiday Nights

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.

Lightscape

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!

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.

New York Panettone Festival

This festival will represent an assortment of artisanal-new generation Panettone from the most famous “Maestri Pasticcieri Italiani” and will serve to distribute the Italian culinary expertise and culture of quality Panettone to NYC’s “foodie” community. The purpose of the initiative is to redefine the culinary and cultural experience of Panettone and offer attendees the opportunity to taste and learn about the countless excellences that have made this product one of the highest expressions of Italian Pastry. Never has an event of this kind been held in the United States. The event will launch on December 9 until Dec 12 and then from December 16 to 19) at the Piazza in Long Island City, at 52-41 Center Boulevard. The event is free and does not require a ticket.

Santa’s Secret

Explore a series of six immersive holiday installations as you make your way to Santa’s secret speakeasy. On this winding path, you’ll find everything from living gingerbread girls and rugged lumberjacks to ice queens in life-sized snow globes. More information on the website.

The Greens

The Greens are private dining cabins at the rooftop of Pier 17. Enjoy unrivaled Lower Manhattan skyline views from a heated & cozy cabin with comfy banquette seating, chalet-inspired decor, floor-to-ceiling views, and private dining space for just your party. Check the website.

Peninsula Hotel

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
Ready Rooftop

Photo: Tao Group Hospitality

This is Ready Rooftop’s first-ever seasonal pop-up. The Palm Holiday, open through March 2022, features colorful plants all over the space, lit-up palm trees, decked out festive trees with flamingos, and frozen cocktails and bites to make you feel like you’re out of the office all winter long. Information and reservations.

Watermark Winter Wonderland

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 treat like hot chocolate, hot cider, fondue, and s’mores! Check their Instagram page for reservations and more info @watermarkny

Holiday Performances

Rockettes

Courtesy Angela Cranford Ries | MSG Entertainment

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 until January 2nd. Tickets.

Big Apple Circus

A New York City beloved classic. Produced by Michael Cohl, Arny Granat, and Nik Wallenda, and directed by Philip Wm. McKinley, Big Apple Circus, this all-new production features Guinness world record holder, daredevil, Nik Wallenda and his fearless family of highwire walkers.Plus an international company of gold-medal-award- winning, world-class circus artists from Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Germany, Russia, and the United States join the Wallendas in this reenergized, reimagined, and reinvigorated production of circus artistry. Until January 30th. Buy tickets.

Twas the Night Before…by Cirque du Soleil

‘Twas the Night Before… is an exhilarating spin on the beloved Christmas classic as only Cirque du Soleil could imagine. This festive show about the wonders of sharing and friendship promises to spark lasting memories in the hearts of families this holiday season. Join Isabella, a curious girl, jaded by the craze surrounding Christmas, as she is whisked away to an upside-down, inside-out world of the poem where she meets colourful characters of this timeless classic.

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 until 1/2.

Jingle Ball

Jingle Ball takes place at Madison Square Garden, on December 10th, with performances from Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Jonas Brothers, Doja Cat, Lil Nas X, Saweetie, AJR, Kane Brown, Tate McRae, Bazzi and Dixie D’Amelio. Buy your tickets.

A Very Darren Crissmas Tour

Darren Criss brings his A Very Darren Crissmas Tour to Beacon Theatre on December 20th. Buy your tickets.

Andrea Bocelli

Andrea Bocelli brings the Believe World Tour to the Madison Square Garden on December 15th & 16th.

Company XIV Nutcracker Rouge

 

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

From Jazz at Lincoln Center website

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 15th to December 19th. 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 14th and December 18th. Buy your tickets. 

Free performances

Enjoy live weekly Broadway performances from incredible shows.

Judson Yards – The Stage – Fourth Floor – 5pm

  • December 6th – Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, Trevor, TINA-The Tina Turner Musical
  • December 13th – Moulin Rouge, Mrs. Doubtfire, Girl From The North Country
  • Reserve your spot.

The Shops at Columbus Circle – 2nd floor – 5pm:

  • December 2nd – Diana The Musical
  • December 9th- Jagged Little Pill
  • December 16th – Mrs. Doubtfire & Moulin Rouge

Holiday cruises

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

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 – Until December 24th. Monday-Friday – 11am-8pm. Saturday 10am-8pm. Sunday 11am – 7pm.
  • Winter Village Bryant ParkUntil January 2nd. Monday-Friday 11am-8pm. Saturday/Sunday 10am-8pm.

  • Columbus Circle Holiday Market – Until December 24th. Monday-Friday 11am-8pm. Saturday/Sunday 11am – 7pm.

Christmas Mass – st. Patrick

St Patrick Cathedral will have some celebrations for Christmas and New Year. See below and check details here.

December 24th

  • 7 am
  • Noon
  • 5h30 pm

December 25th

  • 7 am
  • 10h15 am
  • 1 pm
  • 4 pm (Spanish)

December 31st

  • 7 am
  • Noon
  • 5h30 pm

January 1st

  • 7 am
  • Noon

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  $122,90 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 – lunch – 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 $134,90 per person.  Click here to reserve your spot!

Restaurants for Christmas dinner or lunch 

OpenTable always has an unique Christmas page with restaurants open for dinner and lunch – but they haven’t published that page yet. I’ll keep an eye, and I can update this post later with some options. 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. Keep in mind that prices per person for this date start at a minimum of $100.

Also, check what it is open for Christmas:

Some ticketed attractions open on December 24th:

Some ticketed attractions open on December 25th:

I hope you enjoyed this post! I dedicated many hours of work to this content – please support my work! Whether using affiliate links or sharing this post! 🙂

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