This post is a guide to things to do in New York at Christmas in 2023.
We include markets, window displays, public Christmas trees and lightings, tours, shows, and more.
- Christmas-Themed Tours
- Top Light and Window Displays
- Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
- Dyker Heights Brooklyn Lights
- Christmas Performances
- Christmas Markets
- Other Experiences
- New Year's Eve
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.
And while there is no official Christmas Day parade in New York, Santa does make an appearance at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
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.
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.
Below, we highlight the top things to do in NYC during the Christmas and holiday season.
HOLIDAY LIGHTS TOUR
Free Tours by Foot will offer our popular Holiday Lights and Christmas decorations 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 the Rockefeller Tree! The tour will run daily- see our calendar for dates/times.
Click here to be brought to the tour page or go directly to our booking calendar.
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.
Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Tour
When people think about holiday decorations in New York City, they usually think of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and the lavish store window displays of Midtown Manhattan.
But some of the best sights to be seen are in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, where some of the most outlandish Christmas decoration displays can be found.
We are happy once again to offer our very own walking tour of the Christmas lights in Dyker Heights Brooklyn.
The tour runs Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays at 7:15 pm (19:15) for the month of December. Book this tour now.
Christmas Movies Tour of New York City
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:
- “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)
- Learn more
WHERE TO SEE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS AND WINDOW DISPLAYS
There are so many light and window displays that you could dedicate a whole trip to visiting each and every one of them.
We have listed the top Christmas light displays, not just for Manhattan, but also Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island.
We have done the same things for the window displays in NYC.
ROCKEFELLER CENTER CHRISTMAS TREE
It wouldn’t be Christmas in New York without this enormous green symbol of the season!
The tree lighting on Rockefeller Plaza is a major celebration in the city.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is lit on the first Wednesday after Thanksgiving at roughly 9 pm (21:00).
Be sure to read our post on the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree for more information including where to get a good view, the full dates and hours when the tree is lit up, and more.
TIP: Since you are already at Rockefeller Center, why not visit the Top of The Rock observation deck to see all of the city's sparkling lights?
Saks Fifth Avenue
The show is made up of hundreds of thousands of LED lights synchronized to holiday music projected onto the side of its flagship store on 5th Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets.
We have a full post on the Saks Fifth Ave. lights show.
Bergdorf Goodman Windows
As one of NYC's most luxurious department stores, Bergdorf's (as it's known locally) is regarded as the store with the most extraordinary and fashionable holiday window displays.
Read more about this store's holiday windows in our full post.
Bloomingdales Christmas Windows
The home of the ‘Big Brown Bag’, Bloomingdale’s puts on a fabulous holiday window display.
It’s worth walking a few extra blocks from 5th Avenue to see it.
Macy's Christmas Window Displays
Macy’s was America’s first department store to decorate its windows for Christmas, back in 1874 when the store was located on 14th Street.
Now located on 34th Street, Macy’s decorates the windows that run along the Broadway side of the store.
Since the early years, Macy’s has chosen a unique theme each year.
This year the windows were unveiled on November 17th. The theme is celebrating togetherness and festive nostalgia.
Be sure to read our post on Macy's Christmas window displays.
The Shops at Columbus Circle
Next to the Columbus Circle Holiday Market is this upscale indoor shopping mall.
During the holiday season, the atrium is decorated with 14-foot stars.
The stars are synchronized to blink to holiday music. See their website for times when the light show takes place.
Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights
Every November to January, the Bronx Zoo becomes an illuminated Winter Wonderland.
See 260 lanterns in the shapes of nearly 70 animal and plant species.
In the Forest of Color, you’ll see larger-than-life lanterns of frogs, turtles, butterflies, and more.
There’s also a holiday train, ice carvings, plenty of hot cocoa and more.
Don't miss the Bronx Zoo this holiday! Find out more here.
DYKER HEIGHTS CHRISTMAS LIGHTS
Every year, the residents of the Dyker Heights Brooklyn neighborhood 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.
- Location: Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. The best lights are from 11th Avenue to 13th Avenue and from 83rd Street to 86th Street. The closest subway is the D/M trains at 18th Avenue.
- When to go: Best viewing hours are from 5 pm to 9 pm. (Also, most say that weekends have better displays than weeknights)
- Or you can go with us on our pay-what-you-wish guided tour.
- NOTE: The best lights are about a mile from the subway stop, so prepare accordingly in terms of footwear and dressing for the cold!
- Read the full post here.
CHRISTMAS MUSICALS AND SHOWS
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 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.
Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Even though the Radio City 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 for more details.
- 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: 2023 - 2024 TBA. The number of shows per day varies, but it is usually 4 or 5.
Tickets: Purchase tickets here (affiliate disclosure).
Read our post on how to get a Radio City Christmas Spectacular Discount and also Discounts for Radio City Music Hall Stage Door Tour.
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: 2023 dates TBA. There will be performances on most days, with two a day during most of December.
- Price: Tickets start at $40 (for performances in November), but usually run $60-150 for performances in December.
- Purchase tickets or learn more.
Our Happy Holiday Gospel Special
- Venue: Memorial Baptist Church, 141 W.115th Street (between Malcolm X Blvd/ St. Nicholas Ave)
- Dates/Times: Wednesdays at 12:00 pm. (There is an accompanying Gospel Music walking tour of Harlem at 10:00 am)
- Tickets: Purchase here.
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 in Manhattan, but for a full list, read our post on the best Christmas markets to find some unique markets located beyond Manhattan.
Bank of America Bryant Park Winter Village
Also knows as the Bryant Park Winter Village, it 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!
Official dates for the 2023 - 2024 season to be announced.
Grand Central Holiday Fair
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).
Dates for 2023 for the indoor, in-person market have not been yet announced.
Union Square Holiday Market
Located in Union Square (14th to 17th Street between Broadway and Park Ave South), the Union Square Holiday Market has over 150 vendors.
It includes an array of gifts, from jewelry to leather goods.
This market will take place from November - December 2023 (exact dates not yet announced).
Columbus Circle Holiday Market
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.
Columbus Circle Holiday Market will return from November - December 2023 (exact dates not yet announced).
OTHER CHRISTMAS IN NYC EXPERIENCES
Ice Skating in New York City
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.
Attend a Christmas Tree Lighting
In addition to the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting, there are some other opportunities to see tree lightings in beautiful settings.
Lighting ceremonies are usually accompanied by live music, dancing, tree decoration making, and hot chocolate or hot cider.
Central Park - at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, inside the Park at 110th Street between Fifth and Lenox Avenues.
There will be cookies and hot cocoa, carol-singing, and an appearance by Santa.
Winter Village in Bryant Park - You can stroll the holiday market, go ice skating, and get some food here.
Harlem - at the West Harlem Piers. There will be live music, dancing, and hot chocolate.
See the New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show
One of the best holiday train shows happens every year at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.
Over 25 G-scale model trains and trolleys run along half a mile of track as they circle 190 New York City Landmarks.
Find out more here.
Take a Picture with Santa
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!
Expect a long but jovial wait. You can reserve a time slot for photos.
- Where: Macy's West 34th St. bet. Broadway and Seventh Ave. on the 8th Floor.
- When: 2023 TBA
- Hours: Santaland hours vary between 7 am - 9 pm.
- Cost: Free to visit but photo packages with Santa cost $39.99 and up.
- Reservations are required so book early.
See Santa at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem along with a free choir performance.
- Where: Apollo Theater in Harlem at 253 W. 125th Street
- When: TBA
- Cost: Free!
Santa at Brookfield Place
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 at 220 Vesey Street at West Street in Lower Manhattan.
- When: TBA
- Cost: Premium photo packages range from $27 to $49 with options for digital downloads.
At 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. on the 6th Floor
- When: TBA
- Cost: Photo packages start at $22.
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
The official kickoff to the holiday season is the Macy’s Parade.
In 2023, the parade will be on Thursday, November 23.
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 on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Route.
TIMES SQUARE CELEBRATIONS
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.
Learn how to get a good spot for the ball drop.