Christmas in NYC: 10 Things to do in New York City at Christmas Time

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It’s true when they say New York is the city that never sleeps.

Year round, there is always something for the average city-goer or tourist to go do and see.

From exploring its iconic buildings and tourists attractions during the day to dining at local famous bars and restaurants at night or taking in a show, there is seemingly never a time that the lights truly go out in this town.

Here, the bright lights attract people from all over the world and there’s no city in the US that shines brighter during the Christmas season than New York City.

Thinking about visiting during the holidays? Here are 10 things to do in New York City at Christmas time to get you into the holiday spirit! 

1. Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree 

Lighting a tree is a tradition for most during the holiday season, and probably the biggest tradition in New York City!

Considered a worldwide symbol of Christmas, the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree is an annual event that takes place every year to mark the beginning of the season.

Locals and visitors from all over the world attend the occasion full of magic, music and entertainment, to witness the over 75 foot giant spruce light up in bright festive colors!

If you miss the actual lighting ceremony, not to worry. The tree remains lit daily from 6 am to midnight every day. On Christmas Eve the tree remains lit for 24 hours and on New Year’s Eve it is lit from 6am-9pm. 

2. Holiday Window Displays 

A trip to New York during Christmas is not complete unless you stop by the stunning window displays of these iconic brand retailers.

Located right across the street from Rockefeller Center is Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store.

Every year the retailer puts up an extravagant light show on the window display of its 10 story building that takes the Christmas spirit to new heights.

Not too far away, the “World’s Largest Department store”is also big on its holiday displays.

Macy’s in Herald Square is a sight to see with its legendary Christmas windows of animatronics and elaborate decorations.

The theme changes every year with six window displays for shoppers and city-goers to enjoy.

You can’t miss the giant lit up sign that reads “Believe” that sits above the entrance and captures the nostalgia of the Christmas season. 

Photo by Johnell Pannell on Unsplash

3. Shop the Holiday Market at Bryant Park

New York City can be a shopper’s paradise, and there’s no shortage of holiday shopping at the various Christmas markets around town.

One of the best and most centrally-located Christmas markets in New York is the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park.

Tons of shops that resemble green life-size jewelry boxes display more than 170 artisanal vendors from around the world.

Shoppers can buy anything from jewelry to winter clothing and handmade Christmas decorations.

Bryant Park holds the cities only free-admission ice-skating rink located right in the middle of the Winter Village!

If you’re totally shopped out, or just want to try out your skills on ice, you can skate around the kiosks for a variety of local foods and hot drinks including mulled wine! 

4. Ice Skating 

Ice skating is another fun way to get into the winter holiday spirit in New York City!

One of the most famous rinks around town lies in Central Park. Wollman Rink is a favorite spot amongst locals and tourists.

You can’t get more picturesque than this location when you are skating in middle of a beautiful park with the city’s skyscrapers towering above you. 

Photo by Ihor Dvoretskyi on Unsplash

5. Brunch at Lillie’s Victorian Establishment

For a delicious NYC Christmas activity, start your day with a brunch of comfort eats and a menu of seasonal Christmasy drinks at Lillie’s Victorian Establishment located right in Times Square.

The drinks won’t be the only thing that will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Already a unique spot year round given its vintage vibe with high ceilings and stained glass windows, Lillies is even more awe-inspiring during the holiday season!

A display of beautiful ornamental garlands hang from the ceilings and white lights are strewn around the bar creating the a cozy cheers-y atmosphere. 

6. Rolf’s Christmas Bar

This popular German inspired Christmas themed bar is the definition of merry and bright with an overwhelming amount of lights and wreaths that cover the entire restaurant.

Layers of icicle lights, elaborate ornaments and ribbons hang from the ceilings making it one of the city’s most instagram-able places during the holiday season.

Be sure to make a reservation as it’s not only packed with Christmas decor, but this small restaurant is always packed with patrons all season!

7.  Cocktails at a Holiday Pop Up Bar 

Another great Christmas thing to do in New York City? Explore the magical transformations of pop-up bars that adorn the city for the season.

For example…

Cozy up with a hot cocktail at 230 Fifth’s Winter Igloo Bar. Nothing is cooler than being in a heated transparent igloo, overlooking the Empire State Building.

Step into a Winter Wonderland on top of Eataly in the Flat Iron district.

Serra by Birreria turns into a snowy woodland oasis. Inspired by the Italian Alps of Northern Italy, the venue is adorned with twinkling lights and “snow” covered greenery inside a retractable glass roof. You’ll feel you’ve been transported to the Italian countryside during the winter season.

You don’t have to take a trip to Hawaii for a tropical getaway. The Boilermaker’s Santa’s Surf Shack in East Village turns into a beachy paradise for the holiday with more Christmas decor inside this pop up bar than gifts in Santa’s bag. The drink menu is full of Christmas “spirit” with names like the the Kris Kringle Colada and Mistletoe-to-toe which are served in fun tiki inspired glassware! 

8. Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

If the bright lights of the Rockefeller tree or the holiday window displays aren’t enough for you, make a visit to Dyker Heights. This Brooklyn neighborhood has become one of New York’s top holiday attractions.

Forget decking the halls with boughs of holly. These homeowners go all out in decking their homes.

Huge lavish lawn ornaments and over the top motorized displays adorn the yards as each house is ablaze with lights.

Think “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” but with only friendly competition here to give thousands of visitors each year quite the unofficial tourist attraction. 

9. Attend the Radio City Christmas Speculator 

The legendary renowned Rockettes kick off (literally!) the Christmas season with traditional holiday numbers that will have you singing along and feeling full of joy at this annual musical event.

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular has been a holiday tradition for more than 80 years.

Over 140 cast members wow audiences to celebrate the magic of the holiday season with 12 festive scenes that fill the stage with dancers, performers, a live nativity set with real animals and Santa Clause making an appearance on his 3D sleigh!

It’s the most beloved holiday performance for the most wonderful time of the year! 

Photo by Arthur Osipyan on Unsplash

10. NYE Wishing Wall

It’s not Christmas time unless there is a Christmas miracle or Christmas wish involved.

So, it should be no surprise that making a special wish is one of the top things to do in NYC during Christmas. In fact, you can even have your wish float down New York City’s Time Square as the clock strikes midnight and the ball drops!

All you have to do is visit the NYE wishing wall and write a wish, or a few wishes on pieces of confetti.

On New Year’s Eve, even if you aren’t partaking in the festivities in person, there’s something magical about the experience of having hand written wishes land in the hands of a complete stranger that hopes your wish comes true! 

Pssst… even if you can’t make it to New York City for Christmas, you can still leave a wish virtually here.

Photo by Luo Lei on Unsplash

We hope you enjoyed this guide to Christmas in New York City!

Did we leave off any holiday fun in the Big Apple? Let us know your favorite things to do during Christmas time in the city! 

1 thought on “Christmas in NYC: 10 Things to do in New York City at Christmas Time”

  1. Wonderful article.
    I’ve been there but haven’t “done” that. Makes a person want to go back and see what I missed. You made it special.
    Let’s see some more.

    Reply

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