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This post lists the many things to do in December in New York City, including a top-10 list, as well as family-friendly events, things to do at night, and free activities.
TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN DECEMBER
This section will feature our top 10 activities to enjoy in New York City throughout the month of December. We include several Christmas activities, but for a more in-depth look at holiday activities, check out our Christmas in NYC guide.
Several of the items below are already included for free with the purchase of a tourist discount pass.
1) Take a Holiday Tour
We offer a few different pay-what-you-wish holiday tours that you might want to take in New York City. During this time of year, our holiday lights tour is especially popular.
While on this outing you’ll see the lighting displays at sites such as Lincoln Center and Rockefeller Center. This walking tour runs daily throughout December.
We also offer a tour of the Dyker Heights X-Mas Lights.
For fans of Elf, Home Alone 2, Serendipity, Scrooged and Miracle on 34th Street, consider taking our Christmas Movies tour. See where Buddy the Elf wins that snowball fight and where Kevin McAllister met the Pigeon Lady!
Not only will you see these familiar sites, but you will also see some of the beautiful holiday decorations and displays of NYC along the way. If you’d rather not spend a lot of time outside in the winter, there is a bus version of this tour for a reasonable fee.
If you’re more interested in learning about the history of New York City, don’t forget that we offer a lot of informational pay-what-you-wish walking tours which will be available during December.
2) Go to a Concert
New York City is one of the most popular destinations for entertainers from around the world, so it shouldn’t surprise you that there will be quite a few notable concerts taking place this month, including New York’s iconic Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden.
Another music legend, Bob Dylan will be playing December 1st. Before or after the concert, visit Dylan’s stomping ground in our Self-Guided Bob Dylan Greenwich Village Walking Tour.
Also, if you want to see what goes on behind the scenes at this historic arena, check out the Madison Square Garden All Access Tour.
3) Attend a Sporting Event (family-friendly)
No matter which sport is your favorite, chances are that there will be a lot of regular season games to attend in New York City during December. Here are the most popular teams to watch during this time of year:
4) See a Christmas Show (family-friendly)
There are a lot of great Christmas shows you can see in New York City during the month of December.
Whether you’re looking for something classic or you’d rather see a newer show, chances are you’ll find an interesting musical, ballet or play to attend.
Here are a few of the more notable holiday shows available this month:
If you’re looking for even more great opportunities or you want to learn more about these musicals and ballets, make sure to read our full post about Christmas shows in New York City.
5) Visit Winter Village in Bryant Park (family-friendly)
Winter Village at Bryant Park is one of the best holiday markets to shop for one-of-a-kind items including handmade winter clothing, sweaters, hats, mittens, scarves, decorative items and more. Winter Village is a stop on our Manhattan Holiday Lights and Window Displays Tour.
To find out about Winter Village and other holiday markets in NYC, see our post on the Top Ten Christmas Markets in New York City.
TIP: Thinking of going ice skating at the Winter Village? You can get a free ice skate rental with the New York Pass!
6) Kwanzaa Celebration at the Apollo Theater
Over ten years ago, the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem has put on this annual show to celebrate the holiday of Kwanzaa. The Apollo’s celebration is an energetic and joyful evening of dance and music honoring the Kwanzaa’s principles of family, community, and culture. The show takes place on December 29 at 2 pm & 7:30 pm and tickets cost $20 for regular admission or $35 for premium tickets.
Just going to the Apollo Theater itself is an occasion. They have any shows including plays, music, dance and it’s nearly legendary “Amateur Night”. To find out more about this Harlem landmark or to tour inside, read our post on the Apollo Theater.
7) New Year’s Eve in Times Square
If you are in town December 31st, you might consider being part of the world’s most famous New Year’s countdown in Times Square. It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely on many people’s bucket lists.
Our post on New Year’s Eve in Times Square will fill you in on what to expect, best places to stand, what time to go and survival tips.
If Times Square isn’t your kind of crowd, the post also has lists of alternative New Year’s Eve activities.
8) Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal (family-friendly)
You get a double-whammy when you visit this train show. You get to see vintage Lionel trains traveling through a two-level, 34-foot-long miniature NYC and countryside scene while taking in the splendor of Grand Central Terminal.
While you are Grand Central you might want to spend some time looking around. You can do this on your own with one of our GPS-enabled audio guides or self-guided tour, or join one of the many free Grand Central Tours offered.
You may also enjoy our post, What to See and Do in Grand Central Station.
9) Laugh it up at a Comedy Show
If you’re looking for a good laugh, there are at least a few great comedy shows you may want to see this December. New York City tends to attract a lot of the more popular comedians, so you can expect to see some notable names on this list.
Tickets for some of these shows may be difficult to come by, but that shouldn’t keep you from enjoying some comedy. There are a lot of great comedy clubs in NYC, and you can see local comedians at these locations pretty much every day of the week. Our post, Stretching Your Dollar at the Best NYC Comedy Clubs, leads you to the laughter without busting your budget.
10) Woodbury Common Outlets “Boxing Day” Sale – December 26, 2018
Woodbury Common Shopping Outlet is one of the best outlets in New York State and it is only one hour outside of the city. Our post How to Get to Woodbury Commons has everything you need to know to get there, including bus company recommendations or instructions on how to go by train.
This giant shopping outlet mall has 220 stores including many upscale stores. Shops offer 25%-65% off items, and on Boxing Day prices will be even lower! If you were wondering …Boxing Day is a British holiday celebrated the day after Christmas, a great time to have a sale!
Be sure to check out the other sections of this post, as many of these other ideas are possible at night. For more ideas, see our post on Top 10 Things to Do in New York City at Night.
New York Holiday Lights Walking Tour Pay-what-you-like
This early evening pay-what-you-like walking tour is 2 hours. You can expect lots of jovial fun as your guide takes you to see the best holiday window displays (without the crowds), the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and much more.
Along the way, your guide will share fun facts about the city while ‘warming your heart’. Click here for all the information and how to reserve a spot.
Ice Skating at Night
In New York City you have many choices of where to ice skate, at varying prices and all different hours. Ice-skating at night is extra fun. Nothing brings out the fun of winter as a loop around a rink, or a fall on your behind under the holiday lights of the Big Apple.
Find out where all the rinks are from our post, Where to go Ice-skating in New York City.
See the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
Word is out! For years only locals knew about the wacky competitiveness for best Christmas decorations among the homeowners of Dyker Heights. Now visitors from around the world go to see the spectacle!
You can join us for our pay-what-you-like guided walking tour. Our guide knows the best houses to go to and the history of the origins of the Dyker Heights seasonal insanity.
If you want to go it alone, it’s not too difficult. We have all the information you need at our post How to see the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights.
Attend the Vigil for John Lennon
Each year, December 8th marks the tragic anniversary of the killing of New York’s Beatle, John Lennon. Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono resided in the Dakota Apartments just across the street from Central Park and enjoyed taking strolls in this famous urban oasis.
Following his death, Yoko worked to secure space in the park for a memorial, Strawberry Fields, to her beloved husband. Every December 8th, devoted fans come all day long and into the late night to sing songs and pay tribute to the musical legend.
Go to Lebowski Fest
Ever since the Coen brothers released their cult classic The Big Lebowski, fans have been celebrating the film in a variety of different ways. Lebowski Fest is one of the more popular events in the fan community, and it takes place every year. Fans will come together to go bowling, dress up as their favorite characters, and talk about their favorite movie.
In the past, notable actors such as Jeff Bridges and John Goodman have actually shown up to this event. If you’re a Lebowski fan, do yourself a favor and consider going to Lebowski Fest in New York City this December.
Attend the Radio City Christmas Spectacular
A New York tradition, this lavish seasonal show is fun for the whole family. It showcases the world famous high-kicking Rockettes in addition to many other holiday performances. Read our post Getting Discount Tickets for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular to get a ‘leg up’ on the details about dates and tickets.
If you’d like to learn more about Radio City Music Hall and the surrounding neighborhood, join us for our pay-what-you-like walking tour of Midtown Manhattan that includes Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center and so much more.
We also have a Midtown Manhattan Night Tour which is really festive and holiday season!
Here are just a few of the hundreds of free things you can do in New York City in December and year round. Also, be sure to check out the other sections of this post, as many of these other activities and events are free, such as visiting the Dyker Heights Lights, the Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal or strolling the Christmas markets.
For even more ideas, check our comprehensive post about Free Things to Do in NYC.
Big Brooklyn Hanukkah Fest at City Point (family-friendly)
On December 2, from 2pm-5pm, head over to the amazing City Point Shopping and Entertainment Mall at 445 Albee Square in Downtown Brooklyn to enjoy the first night of Hanukkah. There will be dreidel making, puppets, dancing, music, and the best potato latkes (pancakes) in NYC from Katz’s Delicatessen. Get more information here.
TIP: You can get Katz’s famous potato latkes all year round. Read our post on Katz’s Delicatessen.
Take a Tour of Central Park
There is never a bad time of year to visit Central Park. Soft and sentimental in the winter, it is a quiet escape from the holiday crowds.
While it is certainly easy to take a casual stroll in the park on your own, we recommend that you take a guided walking tour to help you find your way through this huge park. We offer several pay-what-you-like tours of Central Park including a tour of the lower section and one of the middle section.
Read our post on Central Park tours, where you can find out about the many tours available, some free and some with a fee.
One-hour Nutcracker Ballet Performance (family-friendly)
This free and shortened version of the holiday classic takes place on Saturday, December 1 at 1–2pm & 7–8pm and Sunday, December 2 at 1–2pm. Seating is first to come, first to be seated basis and early arrival is strongly suggested. Click here for all the information on the performance.
The ballet is at performed in Lower Manhattan’s Brookfield Place located in the World Trade Center district, a destination in and of itself. Keep enjoying your day for free by joining one of our pay-what-you-like Lower Manhattan walking tours.
We offer many different tours of Lower Manhattan, some include the Brooklyn Bridge, others include the 9/11 Memorial. Click here to find out about all our tour offerings.
Brooklyn Arctic Adventure (family-friendly)
Take a FREE 10-minute virtual reality trip to the North Pole and visit the magical world of Santa, elves, snowman and more! It’s an incredibly immersive experience not to be missed. From Dec 1-Dec 23, 2018 on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 12 pm at City Point at 445 Albee Square in Downtown Brooklyn. Book your 10-minute slots here.
Be sure to take a look at our guide, Things To Do In Brooklyn.
See a Live TV Show Taping
New York City is the home of several popular live television programs, and most of them offer free tickets for their live recordings. No matter what you want to see, chances are you’ll be able to get a ticket without paying a dime. Here are some of the shows you can see for nothing:
For additional information on how to get tickets for each of the shows above and many others, make sure to read our post about New York TV Tickets.
Consider Getting a Tourist Pass
A tourist pass isn’t technically free, but it can save you so much money that you’ll eventually be able to enjoy some attractions for absolutely nothing. To show you what we mean, we’ll use the 3-Day New York Pass ($199) as an example.
As you can see, by the time you get halfway through with the second day, the New York Pass has already paid for itself. What this means is that you won’t have to pay a dime more for anything with the pass on day three.
For more information about this and other all-inclusive passes, read our full post comparing each New York Tourist Pass.
Below are just a few ideas for things to do with kids in December. Many of the activities in other sections of this post are kid-friendly, such as visiting the Dyker Heights Lights, taking our Holiday Lights of Manhattan Tour or strolling the Christmas markets.
For lots of other activities, check out our posts Top 10 Things to Do with Kids in New York City, our 3-day itinerary for families and our list of over 100 things to do in New York City which includes dozens of kid-friendly activities.
Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden
It’s worth taking a bit a slightly longer subway train ride to the Bronx to see these G-scale mini-trains circle 150 of New York City’s landmarks along a half-mile of track. See the Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, and Rockefeller Center re-created with only natural materials like bark and leaves. This year’s theme is Lower Manhattan and One World Observatory is making its debut!
Annual Merry Tuba Christmas at Rockefeller Center
On December 18th at 3:30 pm this free annual and noisy event takes place. You will hear hundreds of tenor and bass tuba players who gather on the famous concourse level Rink at Rockefeller Center to play Christmas carols and other crowd favorites. Get all the information from their website. You will also have a chance to see the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
Before or after the event explore the area with our guide to 50+ Things to Do in Midtown Manhattan which includes a list of 25 things for Kids to do in Midtown Manhattan.
Take a Photo with Santa
Before you go rushing to Macy’s Santaland for that “Santa’s lap” photo, why not compare prices, locations and hours. Our post Photos with Santa will tell you where you can find the many Santa photo locations throughout New York City.
For sure your family will enjoy Macy’s Santaland regardless of getting a photo or not. It’s located in the flagship Macy’s store in Herald Square, on 34th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue.
If you do go to Santaland, why not explore the area around Macy’s. See our post on 50+ Things to Do in Midtown Manhattan including a self-guided tour of the area, with history on Macys and Herald Square.
For more Midtown Tour information, click here.
See a Broadway Show
As we mentioned in the top 10, there are a lot of great Christmas shows to see in New York City during the month of December. That said, you might also want to consider going to see a popular Broadway show instead. At any given time, there are bound to be a lot of wonderful family-friendly musicals to see. Here are a few examples of some popular shows that will be available this month:
If you are interested in seeing any of these shows with your family, make sure to read our post about how to get cheap Broadway tickets.
TIP: If you plan on being in the area, you might want to consider taking our pay-what-you-wish Broadway Theater District Tour. This is a great way to learn about the history behind all of the theaters on and around Broadway.
Take the Kids to the Zoo
There are a few different zoos you can visit in New York City throughout December. The most popular options will be either Central Park Zoo or the Bronx Zoo. Both locations will have a variety of events going on this month that you might want to consider attending.
You can get admission to both zoos with the New York Sightseeing Pass. If you plan on visiting a lot of additional attractions in the city, this is a great way to save money on tickets.
Written by Courtney Shapiro