Christmas in New York City
This post is a guide to things to do in NYC during Christmas, including markets, public Christmas trees, tours, and shows.
UPDATE: Following the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, many shows and events are scheduled to return once more in 2021.
- Christmas-Themed Tours
- 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.
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 the Rockefeller Tree! The tour will run daily- see our calendar for dates/times.
Free Tours by Foot also offers a pay-what-you-like Christmas Movie Tour on a more limited basis.
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
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.
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.
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.
- Location: Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. The 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 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.
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 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: November 5th, 2021-January 2nd, 2022. The number of shows per day varies, but it is usually 4 or 5.
NOTE: This event is scheduled to take place during the holiday season in 2021.
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: Nov 26th, 2021 – Jan 2nd, 2022. There will be performances on most days, with two a day during most of December. See their website for specifics.
- Price: Tickets start at $40 (for performances in November), but usually run $60-150 for performances in December.
NOTE: The Nutcracker is currently scheduled for production in 2021.
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.
NOTE: Most of these markets will be open again for 2021, but a few have yet to confirm their return.
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!
This 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 craftsmen to display their work.
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).
Unconfirmed for 2021
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.
Unconfirmed for 2021
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.
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.
NOTE: Although dates for most of these tree lighting events haven’t been confirmed yet, they will most likely be taking place again in 2021.
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: 2021 dates are to be determined.
- Hours: Santaland hours vary between 7 am – 9 pm.
- Cost: Free to visit but photos with Santa cost about $20 and up.
NOTE: This event was taken digital for 2020, but it may become an in-person activity once again in 2021.
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: 2021 date to be determined.
- Cost: Free!
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: 2021 dates are to be determined.
- Cost: Premium photo packages range from $27 to $49 with options for digital downloads.
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: Date TBA.
- Cost: Photo packages start at $22.
The official kickoff to the holiday season is the Macy’s Parade.
This year the parade will be on November 25th, 2021. 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.
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.