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This post is a guide to things to do in NYC during Christmas, including markets, public Christmas trees, tours, and shows, updated for 2018.
The holidays are always a magical time of year, but there is something extra special about spending Christmas in New York. There are many things to do during the holiday season, which is why we created this guide.
Timing is everything. Most decorations, lights, and window displays start going up in late November. Thanksgiving, a U.S. national holiday that takes place on the last Thursday of November, is seen by most New Yorkers as the start of the Holiday Season.
All of the most popular musicals and shows, as well as the famous light and window displays, start at the end of November. However, things really are in full swing by the start of the second week of December.
Below, we highlight the top things to do in NYC during the Christmas and holiday season.
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.
Check out this virtual tour of the holiday light displays.
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!)
There is also a bus version of this tour.
Some sites/movies covered include:
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 of the lighting ceremony changes yearly, so be sure to read our post on the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree for 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 the prime viewing time is mid-December.
Read our post on how to experience the Dyker Heights lights, including tips on how to get here and which areas to visit.
From late November until the beginning of January, New York City hosts several Christmas and winter holiday-themed plays, musicals and other performances. Read our full post on the 24 awesome Christmas and Holiday themed shows, musicals, ballets and other performances taking place in NYC.
Below are the two most beloved, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and the Nutcracker.
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. Read our full post.
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!
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.
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.
WHERE TO TAKE A PICTURE WITH SANTA CLAUS
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.
Expect a long but jovial wait. You can reserve a time slot for photos beginning on Friday, November 25.
See Santa at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem along with a free choir performance.
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!
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.
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 post Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Route.
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.