Christmas is the best time of year to be in New York City. The city comes to life with cheer, lights, and holiday spirit. It’s a rare time of year when even the busiest New Yorkers take time to stop and admire windows, trees, and decorations throughout the city. New York City has so many Christmasy things to see, do, eat, and experience that in order to be sure you don’t miss out on a single thing – I’ve made a list of my favorite things going on this month in New York. Here’s over 31 things to do; so there’s something to do every single day in December!
Fun Things to See & Do
Every year, The New York Transit Museum puts vintage 1930s R1-9 train cars in regular service every Sunday between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Every detail of the train is a time warp, and it makes your average subway trip adorable, instead of miserable. You can get the complete schedule of times and lines on their website so don’t miss your chance to travel like it’s 1933. Costumes encouraged!
Ice Skating In the City
Lacing up your skates and hitting the ice is one of the best ways to feel the holiday cheer! There are several place to ice skate outside in the wintery weather, but in my opinion, the four best spots for skating with an iconic view of New York are:
The times and admission and skate rental costs differ from place to place, and even sometimes differ from weekend to weekend, so be sure to look into the rules of each rink before you go!
Holiday Window Walking Tour
All the best department stores in the city are within a few blocks of each other – so take a warm evening and hit up all the holiday windows in Manhattan and decide who is your favorite. Each department store does a different theme every year, so you never see the same thing twice. Hours of work go into planning the windows and they take months of work to finish. The New York Post has a great guide with everything you need to know about all the windows.
Visiting Santa inside Macy’s is a tradition that goes back to 1862 when Macy’s used Santa in an advertisement saying that he came to stock their counters with the finest things! Ever since, Santa’s home in New York has been inside of Macys! You can now reserve your timeslot with Santa to avoid the crazy lines inside the store.
The Kings County neighborhood in Brooklyn got famous because it is home to the most over-the-top Christmas light decorations with life-size Santas, sleighs, snowmen and some houses even bump Christmas carols from loudspeakers! The houses go ALL out, and crowds of all kinds come to admire the houses and get in the holiday spirit! There’s an actual guided tours you can take, or you can go on your own. Time Out New York has a full guide to visiting you can check out.
Don’t let the train ride to the Bronx discourage you! At the New York Botanical Garden, you can step into a miniature city where famed New York architecture is recreated using bark, leaves, and other natural materials and vintage trains run through it all! There are performers and on select evenings you can visit after-hours for the Holiday Bar Cart Nights and get a spiked cocoa and food from the pop-up trucks while you view the gardens at night.
On Wednesday, December 4th (National Cookie Day) Maman Tribeca is hosting a Holiday Cookie Exchange to benefit #dough4good! Don’t fear if you’re no good in the kitchen – no baking required here! Just bring two dozen cookies to share, or pay a little extra and Maman will bake them for you. There will be light bites, drinks, and holiday cheer all evening long. You get to take home a box of assorted cookies to share—or keep for yourself!
The LuminoCity Festival is a new event on Randall’s Island that promises a dynamic holiday light festival and immersive art experience unlike anything else. From Nov. 23, 2019 to Jan. 5, 2020, LuminoCity has a 16-acre immersive experience with three theme parks: Winter Fantasy, Wild Adventure, and Sweet Dream, highlighted with over 23 sets of larger-than-life light art displays, a curated holiday night market and four special themed nights featuring live performances and interactive programming! I know the island is a little bit of a trek – but I think this sounds worth it.
The original Christmas Carol Manuscript changed hands several times before it ended up in the collection at the Morgan Library. Now, every holiday season it is put out on display for people to enjoy! On Dec 15th, you visit while characters from the novel entertain you in the gallery with music and magic! A great thing to note is that The Morgan is free on Fridays from 7-9pm, otherwise admission is $22.
Trees to Visit & Tree Lightings
Winters Eve at Lincoln Square December 2, 5:30pm to 9:00pm
MThis year Lincoln Center is celebrating 20 years of holiday festivities. It all begins with the Lincoln Square Tree Lighting Ceremony on the 2nd, and then there is an evening of great live music, family fun, food, and neighborhood pride. This event is open to all and totally free, and I’ll be there with my whole Upper West Side family!
Park Avenue Tree Lighting December 2 at 6:30PM
The Brick Church Tree Lighting and Carol Sing is one of the hidden gem events in New York. The whole community is invited to gather in front of the church steps on Park Avenue at 91st Street for a carol sing-a-long in the street and lighting of the tree. It’s a very local event with a lot of heart, certain to put you in the holiday spirit.
Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting December 4
This is no doubt the highlight of Christmas in New York City. It is free to attend, and so as you can imagine – the crowd is massive and if you want to attend, you need to arrive early in the morning to secure a spot. The tree will remain lit and on display on the plaza between West 48th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues through Friday, January 17, 2020, so if you miss the lighting you can stop by anytime to marvel.
Madison Square Park Tree Lighting December 5, 3:30 – 5:30 PM
The Madison Square Park Holiday Tree lighting is something you should not miss! This free event has seasonal activities. live music, giveaways, and treats, and of course – easy access to the Shake Shack to pick up one of their holiday shakes!
Washington Square Park Tree Lighting Dec 11, 6pm
Sing holiday songs as the multi-colored lights on the Washington Square tree will be turned on to mark the beginning of festive winter evenings in Washington Sq Park! Santa Claus himself will be there, so get your Christmas list ready.
Wall Street Christmas Tree Lighting December 5, 2:30pm—6:00pm
The tree at Wall Street in front of the New York Stock Exchange is quite an amazing sight that most New Yorker’s miss during the holidays! The Tree is paired with a light show displayed on the facade of the Stock Exchange. The tree lighting this year has a performance by Dionne Warwick and several other exciting events.
For the first time ever, the famous Christmas markets from Strasbourg are coming to New York City! Over thirty specialty vendors, straight from France and setting up shop in Bowling Green Park for the season! From December 6 to 22 you can shop, eat, and take part in some fantastic events and activities! The market officially opens on the 6th.
Festive Eats & Drinks
Cliquot Chatlet at Mr Purple
Any fans of the movie Serendipity or dessert enthusiast should make the very sweet trip to this Upper East Side Institution to sip a very large serving of their famous, frozen hot chocolate. Served in a giant bowl with a mound of whipped cream and chocolate shavings – it’s as unique as it is delicious. They also have an amazing hot, hot chocolate for the traditionalist – served with a sea of rainbow sprinkles! There tends to be a long line, so go late at night or make a reservation for dinner to avoid queues.
Delicious Hot Cocoa, Cookies, and treat, caroling, and views of Manhattan… what more could you want? The boat cruise is 1.5 hours on a 1920s style yachts that is heated and decorated for the Holidays! It runs all through December with daytime and evening cruises and is $72/person.
Rolf’s German Restuarant is famous for their over the top Christmas decor year round, but come December is when you want to pop in and enjoy it! Lines wrap around the place to sit at the bar for a drink, so plan ahead and make reservations for dinner. They have pretty good German food, which is a fun change of pace for most New Yorkers. A great tip here is leave your wool sweater at home – because of all the Christmas lights this place gets toasty inside.
The Lodge at Saks
From a magical little door in the epic shoe department of Saks, you can transport yourself into an Austrian ski chatlet, cozy up on a couch, and sip a festive cocktail! This bar is one of the cutest I’ve seen in the city, and really will give you all those winter feels.
The Dream Hotel Midtown has transformed the rooftop terrace into a Winter Wonderland! There is a sky of twinkle lights, and walkway of gold and white flowers. Holiday cocktails are served and city views are an added bonus. Make sure to make reservations ahead of time.
Evening hotspot Mr Purple has teamed up with Veuve Cliquot and made their rooftop bar into an adorable ski-lodge serving bubbles and city lights! This is the perfect spot downtown to for a holiday date night.
SERRA by Birreria is the seasonal rooftop restaurant located on the 14th floor of Eataly in the Flatiron District. It means “greenhouse” in Italian, and the decor changes with the seasons, always offering a fun, themed atmosphere and a rustic menu reflective of the Italian countryside. Serra has a cozy, snow-covered atmosphere, a great cocktail menu and seasonal plates!
The Standard East Village has a Winter Garden, complete with yurts you can reserve to eat fondue, sip cocoa, and share Christmas memories with friends. These little yurts don’t come cheap, but they are cute as can be and a great idea for a little holiday splurge.
Sur La Table hosts a variety of cooking classes daily at their store, but in the month of December several are holiday-themed! Think macaron snowflake baking, festive breads class, holiday cookie decorating, and even gingerbread house making! You can see the whole month schedule online.
Shows, Concerts, and Movies
The Radio City Rockettes in the Christmas Spectacular
A sure way to get in the Christmas spirit is to head to Lincoln Center to see the New York City Ballet perform this iconic and beautiful production. Tickets sell out every year, but head to the box office for the best seats and deals.
The Philharmonic’s performances of Messiah are without question the quintessential, don’t-miss holiday event for music lovers. The Philharmonic performing at Carnegie Hall all through December. Get ready to sing Hallelujah!
Saks is being wonderfully vague about what exactly this experience involves, but chances are – it’s amazing! The top floor of Saks has been transformed and allows you to visit Frozen 2’s Enchanted Forest. It’s only $5 and the money is donated to the Children’s Hospital. The experience lasts 35 minutes and time slots can be reserved online.
This classic tale will remind you of the true spirit of Christmas! Playing until Jan 5, 2020 the Lyceum Theatre in midtown, be sure to book your tickets ahead of time.
If you haven’t ever seen this Christmas classic, this should be the top of your list! This black-and-white movie is the most feel-good holiday movie ever, and a must-see in the month of December. The IFC Center in the West Village is showing the film Dec 6–25 for $16.
This show needs no introduction or explanation. It’s famous worldwide for a reason, and an absolute essential to Christmas in New York! Go see the Radio City Rockettes kick up their heels and leave feeling in the holiday spirit more than you could ever imagine.
The Crosby Street Film club is a boutique movie theatre hidden in the Crosby hotel in Soho. On Sunday nights they do dinner and a movie, limited to just 40 people. In December, the movies are all Christmas themed of course! Reservations can be made via email. If this isn’t a perfect holiday date night, I don’t know what is!