The Ultimate Guide to Spending Christmas in New York City: A VERY NEW YORK CHRISTMAS VACATION

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Ultimate guide to christmas in NYC

Spending Christmas in New York City is something that everyone should do at least once.  Almost every holiday movie ever is set in New York – for a very good reason.  It is a magical time of year in a magical city and there are many ways to experience Christmas.

Are you planning a Christmas trip to NYC?  I love New York City (well, I live here!) and truly believe it’s the best city in the United States to visit.  It’s great any time of year, but New York at Christmas is especially magical.

It can be overwhelming, though. You may be thinking about taking a New York Christmas trip, but aren’t quite sure how to spend Christmas in New York or exactly what to do in New York during Christmas. Read on to discover the best ways to spend Christmas in NYC.


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Guide to Christmas in NYC
Ultimate Guide to Christmas in NYC

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Note: I have updated this guide for 2021.

Where to Stay in New York

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If you are going to visit New York in the coming year, giving one of the many incredible experiences you can have in NYC is the perfect holiday gift.  Check out my guide to 25 experiences in New York that make great gifts.

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Guide to Spending Christmas in New York City

This NYC Christmas Time Guide is very detailed. If you’re going to be visiting New York during Christmas time and aren’t sure what to do in New York for Christmas, I recommend reading it through in details. However, if you have something specific in mind, you can skip straight to a section you are interested in:

  1. Self-guided tour of the Christmas New York holiday window displays 
  2. Guide to visiting Christmas NYC Santaland
  3. Guide to all the best New York Christmas time holiday markets
  4. List of the best New York City Christmas time holiday shows
  5. Guide to seeing the Dyker Heights lights
  6. Self-guided tour of the best New York Xmas trees
  7. Details on the Christmas New York City train shows
  8. Guide on the best skating rinks in New York at Christmas time
  9. The festivals of lights held in New York on Christmas
  10. Church services held in New York for Christmas

Here are my top things to do in NYC at Christmas (and all the details you need to plan your NYC Christmas trip):

1. The Ultimate NYC Holiday Window Walking Tour

Touring the New York Christmas windows of the major department stores is one of the highlights of the holidays in New York.  Do you want to see all the Christmas store windows in New York?  Here is the 11-stop itinerary I always follow.

Duration:  Approx. 3.5 hours, taken slowly.  Note: this can easily be done in reverse.

i. Macy’s on Herald Square Holiday Windows

Macy’s is often the most Christmassy of all of the windows, so it’s a good place to start.  The theme changes each year, but the Macy’s windows always have a nice mix of puppetry and screens to create the magic. The theme is often connected to the recurring holiday theme of “Believe”.

Macys Christmas window

Have extra time? Live out your Miracle on 34th Street fantasies and start your visit at Macy’s Santaland (see below).

Have even more time?  Macy’s is one of the best places in New York City to do your Christmas shopping.  The store is decorated beautifully and there are often good sales.  You might want to come back and do your shopping later, so that you don’t need to carry it around.

Location: Corner of 34th Street and 6th Avenue

How to get to Macy’s NYC herald Square store

The easiest way is to take the subway.  There are several options:

  • A, C, E (blue line) to 34th Street/Penn Station: Walk one block east on 34th Street to 7th Avenue
  • 1, 2, 3 (red line) to 34th Street: Exit on 7th Avenue and 34th Street
  • B, D, F, V (orange line) and N, Q, R, W (yellow line) to 34th Street/Herald Square: Exit on Broadway for Macy’s main entrance.

ii. Bryant Park

Not a store window, but it’s barely a detour and is a great place to break up the Christmas windows tour.  In summer, Bryant Park hosts an outdoor movie festival every Monday, but in winter, it turns into a holiday wonderland. 

There is a great ice skating rink (see below for more details), a holiday market and a pop-up bar where you can stop for a hot chocolate with marshmallows, or something stronger to fortify yourself against the cold.

Holiday food stalls at Bryant Park NYC

In 2022 they also have:

Cozy Igloos

Rent your own cozy igloo and enjoy seasonal refreshments. There are 90-minute sessions.

Family Packages
1-4 guests: $200
5-8 guests: $400
• Carafe of Hot Chocolate or Carafe of Salted Caramel Hot Apple Cider
• Chicken Fingers or Hot Dogs or Bavarian Pretzel
• Crispy French Fries with dipping sauces

Adult Packages
1-4 guests: $250
5-8 guests: $500
• Carafe of Mulled Wine or Bucket of Beer
• Charcuterie Board or Artisanal Cheese Plate or Bavarian Pretzel
• Crispy French Fries with dipping sauces

Get more information and make reservations here.

Cozy Igloos bryant park

Curling and Cafe

Another igloo option is the Curling Cafe. Try your hand at (iceless) curling and enjoy seasonal refreshments. 90-minute sessions include your own dedicated curling lane, so you can play in between eating and drinking. packages are:

Family Packages
1-4 guests: $250
5-8 guests: $475

  • Carafe of Hot Chocolate
  • Chicken Tenders + Fries OR Mac and Cheese + Fries

Adult Packages
1-4 guests: $300
5-8 guests: $575

  • Carafe of Wine or Bucket of Beer
  • Cheese Platter with Fruit and Crackers OR Chicken Tenders + Fries

Find more information and make reservations here

Curling cafe Bryant Park

Bryant Park is a great place to relax and enjoy the people watching.  The beautiful beaux art New York Public Library building makes the perfect backdrop for the Bryant Park tree and all the festive fun.

There is also a very nice public restroom near the north east corner of Bryant Park that often makes a very useful stop.

Location: 6th Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets

 iii. The lions outside the front of the New York Public Library

The lions have gazed out at the 5th Avenue crowds since 1911.  They have names – Patience is on south side of the Library’s steps and Fortitude is on the north side.  They always have an enormous wreath around their necks for the holidays. 

The wreaths used to be real, but the sap was starting to affect the stonework, so now they are artificial – but it still makes a nice photo stop.

visiting nyc at christmas lions new york public library

Location: 5th Avenue between 41st and 42nd Streets

iv. Rockefeller Center

The Rockefeller Center is ‘Christmas Central’ in NYC.  It is a magical – albeit crowded – place, with the enormous real tree taking center stage.  The tree is covered in lights and topped with an enormous crystal star. 

At its base is the golden statue of Prometheus and the iconic skating rink (see below for more details).  In the lane leading from Fifth Avenue to the skating rink, a water feature lined with angels blowing trumpets, and smaller trees covered in golden baubles create the perfect backdrop for photographs.

Rockefeller  Christmas Tree NYC

Location: 5th Avenue between 49th and 50th Street

v. Saks Fifth Avenue Holiday Windows and Light Show

Across the street from Rockefeller Center, on the other side of Fifth Avenue, is Saks Fifth Avenue.  The whole 10-storey facade of the iconic store is used for a spectacular holiday light and music show.

Saks Fifth Avenue New York light show times

The show lasts a couple of minutes and happens every 10 minutes between 5:00pm and 11:00pm between late November and the beginning of January.

Saks Fifth Avenue Light and music show NYC

The windows are often themed around a Broadway show or popular children’s story.  They’re usually not actually Christmassy, but are festive and always beautifully done. In 2022 they are inspired by drawing children did of something they dream of.

Saks fifth avenue windows

Location: 5th Avenue between 49th and 50th Street

Bonus: pass St Patrick’s cathedral in the next block on 5th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets

vi. Cartier windows

Although this is not a department store, the windows, typically featuring the Cartier cat, are often beautiful and worth a quick stop.

christmas stuff to do in nyc cartier holiday window

Location: Fifth Avenue between 51st and 52nd Street

vii.  Lindt Chocolates

Throughout the holiday season, they give out free chocolates at the Lindt store on Fifth Avenue. 

Note: They have a strict one chocolate per person per day policy, so don’t try asking for more.  They also have holiday-themed Lindt chocolates, so this is a good place to stock up on Christmas chocolates – they make great gifts. 

TIP: Buy in bulk and ask for (free) plastic bags and twist ties to break them into smaller gifts.

things to do in nyc during the holidays lindt chocolates

Location: 5th Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Streets

viii.  Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows

This is the grandest of all the holiday windows.  They are an over-the-top cornucopia of excess and beauty. 

They are never overtly Christmas-themed, but always feature fashion surrounded by the most incredibly detailed displays you have ever seen.  Each year has an overall theme and then individual themes for each widow. 

Bergdorfs holiday window

Location: Fifth Avenue between 57th and 58th Street

ix. “The Fifth Season” Installation

In 2021, the Pulitzer Fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel has been taken over with a holiday installation. 24 icebergs, an artificial skating rink, dozens of polar animals and over 5,000 feet of lighting have been used to create a winter wonderland display. This is a great Instagram moment.

The Fifth Season NYC

x. Park Avenue Holiday Trees

2.5 mile (4 km) stretch of Park Avenue is lined with Christmas trees.  From the first Sunday in December, the Park Avenue Christmas lights are all along the middle of Park Avenue from 97th Street to 48th Street.

xi. Bloomingdales Holiday Windows

Bloomingdales’ theme changes each year, but often has some interactive element that is fun for kids.

nyc christmas trip holiday windows bloomindales

Location: Lexington Avenue between 59th and 60th Streets

The NYC Holiday Windows self-guided tour ends (or starts) here. The 4,5,6 (green line) trains stop right here at the Lexington Ave/59 Street station.

*** It’s also possible to do this as an organized tour.  The tour includes an hour for shopping and a dessert and drink.  Book an NYC Holiday Lights Walking Tour here. ***


2. Macy’s Santaland

Visiting Santa at Macy’s Santaland in New York City is a highlight for kids, but requires some coordination.

Where is Macy’s Santaland located?

Santaland is on the 8th Floor of Macy’s Herald Square.  151 West 34th Street (Sixth Avenue at 34th Street). There are plenty of subway stations near Macy’s:

  • A, C, E (blue line) to 34th Street/Penn Station: Walk one block east on 34th Street to 7th Avenue
  • 1, 2, 3 (red line) to 34th Street: Exit on 7th Avenue and 34th Street
  • B, D, F, V (orange line) and N, Q, R, W (yellow line) to 34th Street/Herald Square: Exit on Broadway for Macy’s main entrance

Reserving a time slot for Macy’s Santaland

Santaland is open between late November (just after Thanksgiving) and December 24.   You need to book a time slot to visit Santa. 

Time slots that are available vary day to day, but can be clearly seen online.  You can book a half-hour timeslot here up to 5 days on advance.  It’s free – but online reservations are necessary. 

The time slot you book is the time you can join the line.  Wait times vary, but they are typically shorter during the week than on the weekend.

How much does it cost to visit Macy’s Santaland?

Nothing.  It’s free.

Santa Express Lane

Friday-Sunday, you can book a Santa Express Lane pass, which gets you straight to Santa when you arrive in the time slot you booked, skipping the village and scenery.  There’s then a separate express line.

UPDATE: There is no Express Pass offered in 2021

The Santaland experience – what to expect

A trip to Macy’s Santaland is more than just a visit to see Santa.  There is a train, village and much more to keep you entertained while you wait, and friendly elves to answer your questions.

  • After the ticket window, view holiday window vignettes from Miracle on 34th Street and board the Macy’s Santaland Express.
  • Winter wonderland. Travel through villages and snow scenery with igloos, ice sculptures, poinsettias and lights.
  • The Enchanted Forest, where animals decorate a tree.
  • The Rainbow Bridge.
  • The Lionel Trains Industrial City. A large display with six train sets around a tree.
  • Santa’s Workshop. See Santa’s sleigh loaded with presents and reindeer relaxing in a stable nearby.
  • Santa’s home. Meet Santa J   NOTE: African American and Spanish speaking Santas are available – tell an elf on arrival and they make sure you are in the right line.

Photos at Santaland

Professional photos are available, but are completely optional.  Ask an elf and they will usually take your photo with your cell phone or camera. 

Photo packages are between $20.99-59.99 and you can see the picture on the display immediately after it’s been taken.  You get a ticket and take that to the shop to buy your pictures if you want them. 

Options include prints, Christmas ornaments with your photo on them and CDs with your photos.


3. NYC Holiday Markets

Holiday shopping is one of the highlights of any trip to New York City, and there are several cool holiday markets at which to shop.  Most of them are outside, so bundle up.

i. Union Square Holiday Market

The Union Square Holiday Market is the largest and best of the holiday markets in NYC.  It is open late November (November 28, 2021) to December 24 and has well over 100 stalls selling a range of crafts, Christmas ornaments, jewelry and more. 

There are plenty of handmade goods that make great souvenirs of your trip to New York, as well as great gifts.  Allow at least a couple of hours to wander slowly through all of the stalls.  It gets crowded.

best things to do in nyc around christmas union square holiday markets

Hours:

  • Monday – Friday 11:00am-8:00pm
  • Saturday 10:00am-8:00pm
  • Sunday 11:00am – 7:00pm
  • Closed Thanksgiving

Location: South end of Union Square

Union Square Holiday Market

ii. Bryant Park Holiday Shops

You can spend hours at Bryant Park, admiring the tree, having a drink, ice skating and shopping. The Bryant Park holiday shops (Bank of America Winter Village) are usually open late October to early January (they open October 29, 2021 – January 2, 2022). 

There are almost 200 stalls selling artisanal foods, Brooklyn crafts, handmade clothing and jewelry and more. 

This is outside, so rug up.  You can warm up with a drink at the outdoor café/ bar area, at the cozy popup bar near the ice-skating rink, or in the igloo cafes (see above).

Bryant Park Holiday Markets

Hours:

Daily: 11:00am – 8:00pm

Location: 6th Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets

iii. Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair

Grand Central Terminal is always worth a visit – it’s one of the most beautiful buildings in New York City. 

For the holidays, a Grand Central Holiday Fair is usually set up in Vanderbilt Hall in the terminal from November 15 to December 24, 2021.  There are about 40 stalls selling crafts, toys, clothing and other gifts.  It’s inside!

Hours:

Monday through Friday: 10:00am – 8:00pm
Saturday: 10:00am – 7:00pm
Sunday: 11:00am – 6:00pm

December 24: 10:00am to 6:00pm
Closed Thanksgiving Day

Location: 42nd Street between Lexington Ave and Vanderbilt Ave.

iv. Columbus Circle Holiday Market

The Columbus Circle market is open November 29 to December 24, 2021. You can buy toys, crafts, jewelry, accessories, food and drink here.

Hours:

  • Monday-Saturday: 11:00am to 8:00pm
  • Sundays: 11:00am – 7:00pm
  • Christmas Eve: 11:00am – 4:00pm

Location: Columbus Circle (near the southwest corner of Central Park)

*** A fun option it to take a 4-hour tour of four holiday markets and some holiday windowsBook the holiday markets tour here. ***


4. Holiday Shows

No trip to NYC for Christmas would be complete without seeing a holiday show.  There are several iconic Christmas shows to see when you visit NYC:

i. Radio City Christmas Spectacular

The Radio City Rockettes perform precision dancing in this NYC Christmas classic.

There are classic scenes that are in the show every year such as the wooden soldier fall, in which the line of dancers fall like dominoes in slow motion; live camels, sheep and a donkey to re-enact the nativity, a double-decker NYC bus covered in dancing Rockettes, modern projections and movies, and, of course, Santa.  

Kids (and kids-at-heart) will love it.

christmas celebration in new york radio city rockettes

Times: The Radio City Christmas Spectacular usually runs from early November to early January.

There are up to four shows a day: 11:00am, 2:00pm, 5:00pm, 8:00pm, depending on the day.  The show is 90 minutes with no intermission.  Ticket prices range from $49 to $350 depending on the day, session and seat.

Location: Radio City Music Hall on 6th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets

For a special treat, you can make a special night of it and book tickets for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and an all-inclusive dinner in Times Square.  Book the combined tickets here.   

Another option is combined tickets for the Christmas Spectacular and a holiday windows tour. Book the Rockettes show and holiday windows tour tickets here.

ii. The Nutcracker

The New York City Ballet performs the classic The Nutcracker at the Lincoln Center every year.  It is a spectacle with over 90 dancers and a huge Christmas tree that grows from a height of 12 feet (3.5 m) to 40 feet (12 m) – quite a sight!

Times: The Nutcracker runs from November 26, 2021 to January.  Performances are Tuesday – Sunday evenings with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.

Ticket prices start at $170.

Location: David H Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, 70 West 63rd Street (between Columbus Ave and Broadway)

iii. A Christmas Carol

For something completely different, the Merchant House Museum has a reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in the parlor of this 1830’s house.   The performance is December 1 – 31, 2021.

As an additional option, on select days, you can reserve a spot to join Charles Dickens in the house’s kitchen for mulled wine, cider, and traditional Dickensian Christmas food. 

Ticket prices range from $55 to $125 depending on day, time and seat.

Location: 29 East Fourth Street (between Lafayette Street and Bowery)

iv. A Broadway Show

OK, so this isn’t specific to Christmas, but seeing a Broadway show is kind of a holiday tradition – and something everyone visiting New York should do.

Find out how you can get cheap Broadway tickets.


5. Dyker Heights Christmas lights

The crazy Christmas lights of Dyker Heights are increasingly famous and a definite must do when you visit NYC at Christmas.  

Dkyer Heights is a neighborhood in Brooklyn in which many of the residents try to outdo each other with over-the-top Christmas decorations.  This includes lights, inflatables, statues and more.

trip to nyc for christmas dyker heights

When to See the Christmas Lights in Dyker Heights

christmas trip to nyc dyker heights

The decorations are typically up from Thanksgiving until the end of the year and usually lit between around 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. 

Keep in mind these are people’s homes and this is a suburban neighborhood, so times vary between homes, and people come home from work, eat dinner, watch TV, and don’t like people walking in their yards!

Where to see the Christmas Lights in Dyker Heights

what to do in new york during christmas dyker heights

The main area of crazy decorations is from 11th to 13th Avenues, and from 83rd to 86th Street. Note: 13th Avenue is also called Dyker Heights Blvd.

How to get to the Dyker Heights Christmas lights

There are several ways to get to Dyker Heights: bus (confusing), drive (traffic jams), subway and a tour.

How to Get to the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Display by Subway

  • Take the D train toward Coney Island and get off at 79th Street station in Brooklyn
  • Exit near the intersection of 79th Street and New Utrecht Avenue
  • Go northwest on 79th Street towards 16th Avenue
  • Turn left onto Dyker Heights Blvd. (13th Avenue).

Tour to see the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

By far the easiest way is to take a tour. Book a Dyker Heights lights tour here.

fun things to do in nyc during christmas dyker heights
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Guide to Spending Christmas in New York City

6. NYC Best Christmas Trees tour

One of the best things to do in NYC at Christmas is to see the New York Christmas trees.  Many of the parks and some institutions have spectacular trees and a tour of them is a great ways to get in the holiday spirit. 

Here is my 10-stop self-guided NYC Christmas Tree Tour:

Map NYC christmas trees

Allow a day – you will be using the subway and walking as well, so wear comfortable shoes.  In fact, you may wish to break this into bits so you don’t exhaust yourself, and have a chance to see many of the outdoor trees at night when they are lit up the most.

i. Wall Street Christmas Tree

Start (or end – this can be done in reverse) at the New York Stock Exchange, where there is a simple, but beautiful Christmas tree at 11 Wall Street.

Wall Street Christmas Tree NYC

From there, take the A or C subway train from Fulton Street to West 4 Street and walk the short distance to Washington Square Park.

ii. Washington Square Park Christmas Tree

Washington Square park Christmas tree

The tree here is in the middle of the Washington Square Arch.  The tree is often a little shabby and covered in colorful lights. 

I love that it reflects the character of this neighborhood, which has an eclectic mix of people hanging out in Washington Square Park at all times of the day and night.  There are lots of restaurants and bars on and around nearby MacDougal Street.

From there, walk a short way to the subway and take the N, R or W from 8 Street/NYU to 23 Street.  You will get off right at Madison Square Park.

iii. Madison Square Park Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree is at the northern end of Madison Square Park.  In summer, there is a fountain there, but in winter, it is home to a large tree covered in sparkling white lights. 

At the southern end of the park is the original Shake Shake, worth a stop for a burger and shake.

Madison Square park christmas tree nyc

Walk across to 6th Avenue and take the F or V from 23 Street to Bryant Park/ 42 Street.

iv. Bryant Park Christmas Tree

Bryant Park has holiday shopping, bars, ice skating and a beautiful tree backed by the New York Public Library.  You could easily spend hours here, but at the very least, stop for a hot chocolate with a marshmallow melting in it.

Bryant Park Christmas Tree

Go back to the same subway station and take the F or V from Bryant Park/42 Street uptown to 47-50 Streets/Rockefeller Center.

v. Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

This is the most famous Christmas tree in New York City.  It is a real tree, donated by someone in the local area, on display at Rockefeller Plaza between West 48th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues.  The enormous tree is covered in colorful lights and topped with an enormous crystal star.

When does the Christmas tree go up in NYC?

The tree is erected mid-November (November 13 in 2021), but a better question is “When is the Rockefeller Tree Lighting Ceremony?”

The tree is lit at a ceremony that is broadcast on TV, but you can attend in person.  There is a concert of carols performed by celebrities, and live coverage of the concert and the tree lighting.

The tree lighting ceremony in 2021 is December 1, 7:00pm – 9:00pm. It is up until January 10, 2022.

How tall is the Rockefeller Center tree?

The tallest was 94 feet (28.65 m) in 2016.

Rockefeller Center Christmas tree

There is ice-skating at the foot of the tree in Rockefeller Plaza, and the lights and music show on the façade of Saks Fifth Avenue opposite, so you can come back and visit this at nighttime as well.

Take the V train from 47-50 Streets/Rockefeller Center to Lexington Ave/53 Street, then transfer to the 6 train and take it from 51 Street to 86 Street.  Get off and walk to the met in Fifth Avenue.

vi. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Christmas Tree

You can easily spend a whole day experiencing all that the Met has to offer, but at Christmas, they have a tree that is worth the visit alone. 

The Met Christmas tree  is a twenty-foot/ six-meter blue spruce covered in angels.  At its base is an eighteenth-century Neapolitan baroque crèche/ nativity scene. 

You can spend ages looking at all the tiny figures.  The tree is in front of the eighteenth-century Spanish choir screen in the museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall.

Metropolitan Museum of art christmas tree

After leaving the Met, you walk past Park Ave on your way back to the subway.

vii. Park Avenue Christmas Trees

All along Park Avenue between 54th and 97th streets, there are dozens of Christmas trees, simply lit from the first Sunday evening of December throughout the holidays. 

Each individual tree isn’t amazing, the overall spectacle of a long line of trees all down the middle of Park Avenue is a lovely sight.

new york christmas attractions park avenue christmas trees

Get back on the 6 train at 86 Street and take the subway further uptown to 110 Street.  From there, walk along the northern edge of Central park and up the hill a little to St John the Divine (Amsterdam Avenue between 110th and 113th Street)

viii. St John the Divine Peace Tree

St John the Divine is an enormous cathedral church that is worth visiting just to see the church.   The highlight at the holidays is the beautiful Peace Tree, which is decorated with 1,000 white paper cranes and other peace symbols.

You can visit the Peace Tree from early December to just after Christmas.

St John’s also has a Christmas concert on December 14 at 7:00pm.  You can buy tickets here.

NYC Best Christmas Trees tour St JOhn the divine

From there, walk back down the hill and take the B or C from Cathedral Parkway/ 100 Street to 81 Street/ Museum of Natural History.

ix. American Museum of Natural History Origami Christmas Tree

I love this tree.  The American Museum of Natural History is well worth a day to see the T-Rex skeleton, planetarium and enormous blue whale, among many other incredible exhibits. 

However, from mid-November through early January, it has a wonderful Christmas tree covered in over 800 hand-folded origami paper animals and plants.

must do in nyc at christmas best christmas tree tour American museum of natural history origami tree

From there, walk to Broadway and take the 1 train from 79 Street to 66 Street/ Lincoln Center.

x. Lincoln Square Christmas Tree

The tree at Lincoln Square across from Lincoln center is not the most spectacular tree, but is the centerpiece of the annual Winter’s Eve Festival, which starts with the tree lighting ceremony. 

The festival runs along Broadway between Columbus Circle and 68th Street, 5:30pm to 9:00pm with entertainment and music, food, shopping and more.

Lincoln Center NYC Christmas Tree

7. Holiday Train Shows

There are actually two different holiday train shows in New York City.

(a) The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Gardens

The New York Botanical Gardens hosts an annual Holiday Train Show in the conservatory/ greenhouse. 

It is huge display of more than 175 New York landmarks made out of natural materials like bark and leaves, with model trains running around and through it.  Landmarks featured include the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and One World Trade Center.

The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Gardens

NYBG Glow

On select nights throughout the season, between 5:00pm and 10:00pm, the Botanical Gardens also has GLOW, an outdoor color and light experience.  

There’s an after-dark viewing of the Holiday Train Show, outdoor bars with drinks, hot cocoa, and food, as well as the Bronx Night Market Holiday Pop-Up.

When is the Holiday Train Show

The Holiday Train Show is open Saturday, November 20, 2021 – Sunday, January 23, 2022.

Hours of the Holiday Train Show

General hours (timed entry needed to visit):
  • 10:00am – 6:00pm: Tuesday to Sunday
Other hours:
  • 10:00am – 6:00pm: Mondays: December 20 & 27; January 17
  • 10:00am – 3:00pm: December 10 and December 24
  • 10:00am – 4:00pm: GLOW nights (daytime entry)
  • 5:00pm – 10:00pm: GLOW nights (nighttime entry including GLOW)

Closed: November 25 (Thanksgiving) and December 25 (Christmas)

Advance purchase of timed entry tickets is strongly recommended as tickets do sell out.

Price of the Holiday Train Show

Gardens and Train Show pricing
  • Adults $32
  • Seniors and students $30
  • Children $18

Train Show and GLOW pricing

  • Adult Non-Members $49
  • Children Non-Members $34
  • Adults Members $35
  • Children Members $25

Location of the Holiday Train Show and how to get there

2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx.  If you have a car, get off the Bronx River Parkway at Fordham Road (Exit 7W). Enter the gardens through Main Entrance at 2900 Southern Boulevard for onsite parking. Offsite parking is also available at NYBG’s Parking Garage (401 Bedford Park Boulevard).

However, taking the subway or Metro North train from Grand Central Terminal is easier. Find complete directions here.

(b)  The Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal

This is at the New York Transit Museum, which is inside Grand Central.  There are over 34 feet/ 103 meters of tracks with vintage trains leaving from a mini Grand Central.

HOliday Train Show Grand central

It’s open 8:00am – 8:00pm Monday- Friday and 10:00am – 7:00pm weekends (closed holidays).

Usually late November – late February

Update: The train show at the Transit Museum is not being shown in 2021


8. Ice Skating

I love ice skating in New York City.  I’m terrible at it, mind, but skating surrounded by the city is one of the most iconic New York Christmas traditions. There are several places to go ice skating in Manhattan, plus others in the other boroughs. 

Manhattan ice skating rinks are:

i. Bryant Park

The rink at Bryant Park is fairly large and is completely surrounded by towering skyscrapers, which is very cool.  There is a large Christmas tree, a nearby fountain that is sometimes frozen, and holiday shops in the build up to Christmas.  The rink is open:

  • Monday – Thursday: 8:00am – 10:00pm
  • Friday – Sunday + holidays: 8:00am – 11:30pm (4:00pm NYE)

The best part?  It is absolutely FREE – with your own skates.  Skate rental is expensive at $15 – $45 depending on the date.  Check out the full fee schedule here

There is a bag check service $5 – $15.  They close the rink periodically to fix the ice, but there are no timed sessions, so you can come whenever you want and stay as long as you want.  It is open from October 29, 2021 until March 6, 2022.

Ice skating bryant park

ii. The Rink Rockefeller Center

This is the iconic skating rink featured in many movies and TV shows.  It’s at the foot of the Rockefeller tree.  The downside is that it’s small and can get crowded.  It’s open daily 9:00am – 12:00am (midnight). 

There is timed entry throughout the day and you get about 60 minutes of skate time for the time of your ticket. 

Ice skating rockefeller center nyc

It costs $20 – $54 for adults, depending on the dates. Skate rental is an additional $10.  Check out the fee schedule and buy tickets here

It’s open from November 6, 2021 – January 2, 2022.

If you want to hang out after (or before) skating, there are eight cozy chalets set up at the rink level. These are totally free to use (as long as you order some food / drinks from Hombre Taco), and no reservation is necessary.

iii. Wollman Rink Central Park

The Wollman Rink is in the south part of Central Park.  The rink is fairly large, so you have room to skate around.  The best part, though, is it location, with incredible views of Central Park and midtown Manhattan.  It’s magical.

It’s open every day, but times vary. (Resurfacing takes 30 minutes)

  • Monday and Tuesday: 10:00am-2:30pm (Ice resurfacing is at 11:30, 2:30, 5:30)
  • Wednesday and Thursday: 10:00am -10:00pm (Ice resurfacing is at 11:30, 2:30, 6:00, 8:30)
  • Friday and Saturday: 10:00am-11:00pm (Ice resurfacing is at 11:30, 2:30, 6:00, 8:00, 9:30 Friday and 11:30, 1:30, 3:30, 5:30, 7:30, 9:30 Saturday)
  • Sunday: 10:00am -9:00pm (Ice resurfacing is 11:30, 1:30, 3:30, 5:30, 7:30)
things to do in nyc over christmas wollman rink ice skating nyc

The price also varies:

Monday – Thursday

  • Adults: $14.00
  • Children: $6.00
  • Seniors: $5.00

Friday – Sunday and Holidays

  • Adults: $23.00
  • Children: $6.00
  • Seniors: $9.00

Skate rentals are $11.00 and lock rentals are $5.00 + $6.00 refundable deposit.

Tickets can be bought online or in-person.

iv. The Rink at Brookfield Place

This small downtown skating rink is the new kid on the block.  It’s tiny, but is a fun diversion if your downtown, and has nice views of the Hudson River.

Monday – Friday

  • 90-minute sessions 2:00pm – 9:15pm

​Saturday, Sunday & Holidays

  • One-hour sessions 9:00am – 9:15pm

Each session costs $17 and skate rental is $5.  It’s at ​Three World Financial Center, 230 Vesey St (across West Street from One World Trade Center).

You can also skate with Santa 10:15 AM – 3:00 PM on Saturdays, December 4, 11 & 18. (special reservations are needed).


9. Festivals of Lights

There are actually two cool festivals of lights in NYC during the holiday season.

i. NYC Winter Lantern Festival

The NYC Winter lantern Festival is not a Christmas event, but is a great holiday outing.  There are over 40 ‘lanterns’ – LED installations up to 30 feet/ 9 m tall.

NYC Winter lantern festival main gate

The Winter Lantern Festival will be offered at the original Staten Island location as well as Queens and Long Island in 2021.

Tickets are available online (all three locations) or onsite (Queens and Staten Island only).

NYC Winter lantern festival

Long Island: A Bug’s Night: A Drive Thru Adventure

  • Nassau County Museum of Art
  • Drive through
  • October 22, 2021 – January 9, 2022
  • Wednesday – Sunday
  • 5:00pm – 10:00pm
  • $34.99 – $49.99

Queens: Illuminate The Farm

  • Queens County Farm Museum
  • Walk through
  • November 25, 2021 – January 9, 2022
  • Thursday – Sunday (7 days / week December 16 – January 2)
  • 4:30pm – 9:30pm
  • $16.99 – $24.99

Staten Island: Escape

  • Snug Harbor Cultural Center
  • Walk through (see description below)
  • October 29, 2021 – January 9, 2022
  • Friday – Sunday
  • 4:30pm – 9:30pm
  • $16.99 – $24.99

You enter though a dramatic dragon gateway, pass over-sized poppies, traverse through a tunnel of lights and enter a large field with many beautiful lantern/ light displays scattered around.  Some are more successful than others. 

The shark is a disappointing up close, but dramatic from a distance; the African animals are a little mean looking, and the Chinese vase a little bland (as is the Christmas tree). 

However, a birdcage is a colorful fancy, pink flamingos are spectacular, an enormous Chinese gate glows, and a long dragon is a dramatic finale.

NYC Winter lantern festival

The event is put on by a Chinese cultural organization, and in addition to the lantern displays, there are “projection mapping live performances”. 

NYC Winter Lantern Festival

There are food trucks that sell food and hot chocolate, as well as a couple of tents that sell (expensive) souvenirs and have sugar art demonstrations.

NYC Winter lANTERN FESTIVAL

Location and getting to the Staten Island “Escape” NYC Winter Lantern Festival

The NYC Winter Lantern Festival is at Snug Harbor Cultural Center (1000 Richmond Terrace) on Staten Island. 

To get there, take the subway in Manhattan – the 6 train to Bowling Green or 1, R, W to Whitehall St/ South Ferry – and then the Staten Island ferry. 

The Staten Island ferry is free, takes about 20-25 minutes and goes right past the Statue of Liberty and has incredible views of downtown Manhattan, so it is worth the trip alone.

When you arrive at Staten Island there is a free shuttle (near Exit E) that leaves every 15 minutes.

Location and getting to the Long Island “A Bug’s Night” NYC Winter Lantern Festival

This drive thru event requires a car. It’s held at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn. Get driving directions here.

Location and getting to the Queens “Illuminate The Farm” NYC Winter Lantern Festival

This farm-themed light show is at the Queens County Farm Museum in Glen Oaks. Driving is definitely the easiest option. You can get directions on Google here.

By public transportation, take the E or F subway train to Kew Gardens/ Union Turnpike and then the Q46 to Union Turnpike/ 252 Street. from there, it’s a seven minute walk.

NYC Winter Lantern festival

ii. LuminoCity Festival

This is a similar light art experience in Whitney Pond Park, Manhasset on Long Island.  There are 24 lights displays set over 16 acres, creating a fantasy land of three themed parks to wander through.  There are also four special themed nights with performances, holiday markets with food and drinks every night.

The Luminocity Festival runs from November 12, 2021 to January 9, 2022. It is open 4:30pm to 8:30pm:

  • Thursday – Sunday November 12 – December 19 and December 30 – January 9 (closed Janaury 6)
  • Every day December 21 – December 26

Timed entry tickets cost $27 for kids and $38 for adults. VIP tickets are $76.  You can buy tickets online.

The VIP ticket gives you:

  • Fast Pass into the festival via VIP entrance
  • 10% off our festival gift shop (not online shop)
  • Complimentary Lumi Goodie Bag with Lumi’s favorite things (worth more than $40)
  • Free VIP on-site parking

You can get to Whitney Pond Park by car. There is a free shuttle from the parking to the festival.


10. Christmas Services

There are several iconic New York churches where you can attend a Christmas service.

i. St Patrick’s Cathedral

There are several masses with music including:

Christmas Eve (December 24)

  • 7:00am
  • 12:00pm noon
  • Family Mass 5:30pm
  • Midnight Mass (11:00pm Choir Prelude) Seating by ticket only.  You need to enter a Midnight Mass Ticket Lottery.

Christmas Day (December 25)

  • 7:00am
  • 10:15am
  • 1:00pm
  • 4:00pm (Spanish)

Location: 5th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets.  Nearest subway is 5 Av/51 St (E and M trains)

things to do in nyc during christmas time st patricks cathedral

ii. St John the Divine

The cathedral church of Saint John the Divine has several Christmas services , which are online in 2021.

You can visit the church on Christmas Eve and Christmas day for a self-guided tour at 9:30am.

iii. The Riverside Church of NYC

The Riverside Church of New York City has two Christmas Eve services:

  • Service for Children & Families in the nave 4:00pm – 5:30pm
  • Service of Lessons & Carols in the nave 8:00pm – 9:30pm

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Guide to Spending Christmas in New York City

Practical Information for Visiting New York City at Christmas

How cold is New York at Christmas?

December in New York City is cold. The average temperature range is 30°F / -1°C min minimum to 43°F/ 6°C maximum.  Snow is possible.

Getting to New York City

There are three international airports servicing New York City. Check out prices of flights to New York on Skyscanner here.

How to get from the airport to central New York City

The easiest way to get from the airports to central Manhattan is by private transfer.

You can book a transfer from JFK to Manhattan here.

You can book a transfer from Liberty Newark Airport to Manhattan here.

You can book a transfer from La Guardia Airport to Manhattan here.

How to get around New York City

The cheapest and often quickest way to get around is the subway.  A one-way trip costs $2.75/ trip or $32.00 for an unlimited weekly pass.  A trip costs the same if you go one station or twenty stations – there are no zones. The actual MetroCard costs $1, so keep it and reuse it every time.  You can Add Value (pay per trip) or Add Time (weekly or monthly unlimited passes).

The subway runs 24/7 and it is often quicker than a taxi because of New York traffic.  If you really don’t want to take a bus or the subway, take a taxi, which are everywhere.  Just hold out your hand when you see a taxi with the top light on (which means it is available).  You can use credit cards to pay for taxis (and you should always tip).

Where can I stay in New York for Christmas?

There are a lot of accommodation options in NYC.  It will probably be one of your biggest expenses, so don’t be shocked.  To help you make your decision, use my Guide to Choosing the Best Hotel to narrow down your choices.

So, what are the best Christmas hotels in New York?

Kevin’s former boss always stays at Crosby Street Hotel when he is in New York and he swears by it.  It’s very chic and has a high cool factor.  Book the Crosby Hotel here.

For a cheaper Bed and Breakfast option, stay at the Chelsea Pines Inn, which you can book here. A good friend of mine stays here when she visits and she loves it.  It’s gay friendly, but she is straight and feels totally comfortable here.

Check out other hotels in New York City here.

Planning and Packing for New York City

I hope that my blog is a useful resource for your Christmas trip to New York.  I have lived here for well over a decade and am happy to share all I know about it.  For additional practical information, though, it is always a good idea to get a good guidebook.  You can buy the New York City Lonely Planet here.

Just starting to plan your trip?  Use my handy Trip Planner to make it easy for you.

Planning what to take?  Check out my Essential Packing List.

Ready to book your trip?  I use these resources for my trips.

Additional consideration: Travel Insurance

New York is the safest big city in the United States, but it is important to be fully prepared when you travel and I think you should always have travel insurance, just in case.  I always hope I never need to use it but I get it just in case I do! 

A great insurance option is World Nomads.  You can book it right here.

Do you have questions about travel insurance.  Read my full Guide to Travel Insurance here.


FAQS: Visiting NYC in Christmas 

What is there to do in New York at Christmas?  

Hopefully I’ve answered this question above. There is LOTS to do throughout the holiday season.

When does Christmas in New York start?

Traditionally Christmas time in New York starts at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. However, many of the holiday events and places start as early as late October, these days.

When does Christmas in New York end?

Many of the festivities in New York in Christmas time go through until early January.

When does Christmas shopping start in New York?

These days it can start as early as mid-October (!), but traditionally, the NYC Xmas shopping season starts right after Thanksgiving on Black Friday.

Is Christmas in New York worth it?

Yes, absolutely. NYC in Christmas time is magical.

What is Christmas in New York like?

Xmas in NYC is great for families, romantic couples and solo travelers. You can do all your shopping, enjoy winter festivities, and experience all sorts of Christmas events. I’m goin to go out on a limb here and say that there is truly no place in the world as good as New York City at Christmas time.

Does it snow every Christmas in New York?

People often ask me “Will there be a white Christmas in New York?” and, while NYC is especially magical when it snows, snow in December is actually not that common. Most snow in NYC happens in January and February. That’s not to say that it’s impossible. So you may be lucky and have snow for your Christmas vacation in New York, you shouldn’t expect it.

When will Christmas decorations be up in New York?

There are lots of decorations and trees in NYC during Christmas time. They typically go up soon after Thanksgiving. The Rockefeller Tree will be lit December 1.

Where to have Christmas dinner in New York?

Lots of restaurants have Christmas dinner. I live here, so always have dinner at home, but one of my favorite special occasion restaurants is Tavern on the Green. They have a Christmas Day prix fixe dinner that looks delicious.


Do you have any New York Christmas stories?  I’d love to hear them. Comment below. 

If you liked this post, please share the love and Pin it to your Holiday Board or New York City Board!

Guide to Christmas in NYC
Guide to Christmas in NYC

Check out my Gift Guide full of great New York City experiences.

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About the author

James-Ian-at-Travel-Collecting

James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents.  He is passionate about experiential travel, i.e. meaningful travel that actively engages with the environment and culture.  He helps people have similar experiences that involve active participation in activities and festivals; engaging with the local food and handicrafts through lessons and food tours; and interacting positively with environment by hiking, riding, rowing, diving and low/no impact animal encounters. 

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