This post is a guide to things to do in NYC during Christmas, including markets, public Christmas trees, tours, and shows. The holidays are always a magical time of year, but there is something extra special about spending Christmas in New York. The city is absolutely at its best and brightest, and there is no shortage of festive activities to partake in! Whether it is skating under the Rockefeller Tree or viewing the whimsical department store windows, there will be something for you! Be sure to dress appropriately, as December can get chilly. Below is our guide for things to do during the holidays in the Big Apple. If you are planning on visiting many attractions during the holidays, then consider a tourist discount pass, and be sure to check out our definitive guide for things to do in NYC.
Free Tours by Foot will offer our popular Holiday Lights tour again this year. Don’t miss this opportunity to see all of the holiday decorations and legendary window displays all at once! Like all of our other walking tours, you will have the opportunity to pay what you want and see the best and most beautiful of our city’s holiday offerings. We will cover everything from Lincoln Center to Lord and Taylor to the Rockefeller Tree! The tour will run daily- see our calendar for dates/times. Click here to be brought to the tour page.
Check out this virtual tour of the holiday light displays.
Free Tours by Foot also offers a pay-what-you-like Christmas Movie Tour on a more limited basis. If you prefer to visit these sights on wheels, then check out the bus tour version.
It wouldn’t be Christmas in New York without this enormous green symbol of the season! The tree lighting is a major celebration in the city. It is put up mid-November but isn’t lit up until the end of November. The date changes yearly so be sure to read our post on the Rockefeller Center Christmas Treefor the exact dates and times you can see it and also when the light switch will be flipped on!
Every year, the residents of Dyker Heights Brooklyn deck out their homes with elaborate Christmas lights. Many homes are professionally decorated, with some displays costing up to $20,000! Many homes are decorated the week after Thanksgiving, but people say the prime viewing time is mid-December.
Location: Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Best lights are 11th Avenue to 13th Avenue and from 83rd Street to 86th Street. Closest subway is the D/M trains at 18th Avenue.
When to go: Best viewing hours are 5 pm to 9 pm. (Also, most say that weekends have better displays than weeknights
Even though the Rockettes originated in St. Louis, these high-kicking ladies have become synonymous with New York City. During the annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular the Rockettes perform their famous “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” as well as a variety of other numbers. The Christmas Spectacular began in 1933 and has gotten bigger and grander every year! Read our full post.
Location: Radio City Music Hall at 50th Street and 6th Avenue. The closest subway is the B, D, F or M trains at 47-50 Sts Rockefeller Center.
Dates/Times: This year the Radio City Christmas Spectacular runs from November 10th through January 1, 2018. The number of shows per day varies, but it is usually 4 or 5. The times also vary depending on the show schedule for that day. Best to check StubHub’s website if you have a specific time/date in mind. They seem to have cheaper tickets.
The off-broadway musical ELF and is the funny and touching story of a young orphan named Buddy who sneaks into Santa’s bag of toys and ends up in the North Pole! Growing up in the North Pole has hm convinced he is an elf. But he’s a bit too tall and terrible at making toys, and it becomes obvious to Buddy that he, in fact, is a human. Buddy goes to New York searching for his birth father. Along the way, he finds joy, sorrow and they the true meaning of Christmas.
See this traditional Charles Dickens tale, that made its New York debut in 1867. Here is the chance to see this classic tale in the landmark 1832 Merchant’s House Museum, transporting you back 150 years.
Location: The Merchant’s House Museum, 29 East 4th Strete between Bowery and Lafayette Avenue
Dates/Times: November 30 to December 31, various times and dates. No shows on Monday.
Hip-Hop Nutcracker (with legendary rap music founder Kurtis Blow)
Tchaikovsky’s classic score meets hip-hop choreography. With a dozen all-star dancers, live DJ and electric energy, this show celebrates love, community and the magic of the holidays. Two performances:
Showtimes, Locations, and Tickets
Thursday, December 14, 7:30 pm at the United Palace, 4140 Broadway in Manhattan. Tickets at Ticketmaster.
Saturday, December 16, 7:30 pm at The Kings Theatre, 1027 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. Tickets at Ticketmaster.
There are several ice skating options in New York during the holidays. You can choose the one that is right for you based on your price point and location. Some, like Rockefeller Center, can get very crowded, so plan ahead or be ready to pay up for quick access. Others, like Central Park, are not as crowded. However, it’s easy to plan around the busiest of times. So, lace up your skates and have a quintessential New York City experience. Read our post on where to go ice skating in New York City.
New York hosts several Christmas markets, where you can buy gifts, decorations, and festive treats! It is a fun and unique way to do some of your holiday shopping. Below is a list of the most popular markets but read our full post of Ten Christmas Markets to find some unique markets located beyond Manhattan.
Union Square Holiday MarketNovember 16-December 24, 2017 (closed Thanksgiving Day). Located in Union Square (14th to 17th Street between Broadway and Park Ave South), this outdoor market has over 150 vendors. It includes an array of gifts, from jewelry to leather goods.
Columbus Circle Holiday Market November 28-December 24, 2017. This market is similar to the Union Square Market. (It is run by the same people.) This location is at the southwest entrance to Central Park, so it could be done in conjunction with a trip to Wollman Rink! This market is slightly smaller than its downtown counterpart, with about 100 stalls.
Bryant Park’s Winter VillageOctober 28 to January 5, 2018. This market actually has temporary shops put up for the season. There are over 125 offerings, from apparel to accessories to local restaurants. Combine this with a trip to the Bryant Park ice rink!
Artists and Fleas at Chelsea MarketThis is a temporary pop-up bazaar located inside Chelsea Market (15th Street at 10th Avenue). It is the creation of a Brooklyn-based husband and wife team, who carefully select over 30 local artists and craftsman to display their work. For some funky, well-crafted and truly unique gifts, check out this market! They also now have locations in SoHo and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Grand Central Holiday FairNovember 13-December 24, 2017. This market is located in Vanderbilt Hall (inside Grand Central Terminal) and offers over 70 vendors, with things that you can’t find anywhere else in New York! (Past items have included hand-painted table linens and mosaic mirrors). Hours: Mon-Fri: 10am-8pm; Sat 10:00am-7:00pm; Sun 11:00am–6:00pm; Closed Thanksgiving; Christmas Eve open 10:00am-6:00pm.
Tchaikovsky’s Christmas ballet has become a must-see for many people during the holidays. Famed artistic director George Balanchine created the version that New York City Ballet performs every year at Lincoln Center in 1954. Don’t miss your opportunity to travel with Clara through the Kingdom of Sweets!
Location: David H. Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center. The closest subway station is the 1 train at 66th Street.
Dates/Times: November 28th through January 3rd. There will be performances most days, with two a day during most of December. See their website for specifics and to get tickets.
Price: Tickets start at $40 (for performances in November), but usually run $60-150 for performances in December.
One of the most watched events on television, the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square is a classic conclusion to the holiday seasons. NYE celebrations in Times Square first occurred in 1904 when the New York Times relocated to that area. However, the now famous ball drop was not added until a few years later. Today, over 1 million people gather in Times Square to ring in the New Year.
Santa Claus is not camera shy and he’s arriving in New York in late November to pose for photos with your kids – or grown-ups too! There is no shortage of Santas and this post will direct you right to them.
Where: Apollo Theater in Harlem at 253 W. 125th Street
When: Saturday Dec. 3, 2pm-6pm
At the Bloomie’s Santaland lines are usually shorter than Macy’s AND if you are a Sex and The City fan, a trip to Bloomingdale’s is essential!
Where: Bloomingdales at 1000 Third Avenue at 59th St. 6th Floor
When: Nov. 27- Dec. 23, 10am-6pm.
Cost: Photo packages start at $22.
Santa’s Winter Wonderland
The wait to meet Santa Claus is about 10 minutes, but there is a lot to do here at Brookfield Place, from holiday-themed activities, from ornament making and coloring sheets to creative toys.
Where: Brookfield Place in Battery Park City at 220 Vesey Street at West Street
Experience New York City through some of your favorite holiday classics! This tour takes you to iconic film sites used in “Elf,” “Home Alone 2,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Serendipity” and “Scrooged.” In addition to visiting sites and getting some fantastic photo ops, you will hear “behind the scenes” filming stories about each of these movies. Learn how a full Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was filmed for “Miracle on 34th Street,” where the design of Buddy the Elf’s costume came from and exactly what Kevin McAllister ordered from the Plaza Hotel to rack up a $967 room service bill! We will use our feet and the New York City subway to get from place to place on this tour, finishing up at Macy’s. (A perfect time for a visit to Santaland or some last-minute shopping!)
Some sites/movies covered include:
“Elf” snowball fight location
Hobbes apartment Building (Elf)
Wollman Rink (Serendipity)
The Plaza Hotel (Home Alone 2)
Rockefeller Center (Scrooged, Elf and Home Alone 2)
The official kickoff to the holiday season is the Macy’s Parade. This year the parade will be on November 24th, 2016 and will be the 90th annual parade. Head out to see new balloons and floats as well as old favorites. Make sure you stay to greet Santa Claus at the end! For detailed information on the parade, see our postMacy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Route.
Route: The parade begins at 77th Street and Central Park West. It goes down Central Park West to 59th Street and then cuts across Central Park South. From there it heads east to 6th Avenue, where the parade turns south and heads all the way down to Herald Square. Altogether, there are 2.5 miles of parade route, so you have plenty of options for places to watch!
Time: The parade begins at 9 am on Central Park West and continues for about 3 hours, until the last marchers reach Herald Square.