What to Do in New York in December

This post lists things to do in December in New York City, including free, nighttime, and family-friendly activities. 

We list Christmas and Holiday events, but read our Christmas in NYC guide for many more events.

 


TOP 10 EVENTS AND THINGS TO DO IN DECEMBER

This section features our top 10 activities to enjoy in December in New York City, including Christmas activities. 

For a full listing of things to do in holiday events and activities, see our post on Christmas in NYC.

Be sure to check out our master post, Things to Do in NYC, for more ideas to all year round.

Several of the items below are already included for free with the purchase of a tourist attraction discount pass.

For tips on the most popular activities in NYC, check out the following posts:


1. Take a Holiday Tour

In December, we offer a few different pay-what-you-wish holiday tours including our Holiday Lights Tour which runs daily.

You’ll see the famous department store windows, the stunning lights at Rockefeller Center and much more.

 

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We also offer a tour of the famous Dyker Heights Christmas Lights where you will see some of the most outlandish Christmas decorations of houses in Brooklyn.

For fans of Elf, Home Alone 2, and other Christmas-themed movies, check out our pay-what-you-wish Christmas Movie Tour.

We also offer a bus version of this tour for a reasonable fee. 

Don’t forget that our most popular pay-what-you-wish walking tours will be running in December.

We also have audio tours that you can enjoy at your own pace, day or night.  


2. See the Rockefeller Christmas Tree 

Every December, the lights on this iconic Christmas Tree are turned on. 

For all the details such as when to go and how to get there, see our post on the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.

 

 

The tree lighting marks the unofficial start of the Christmas Season in NYC

It’s now when many storefront displays, holiday shows, and musicals, as well as light decorations, are available. 

While you are there, take the opportunity to visit Top of the Rock to get unparalleled views of New York City at the observatory. 


3. Go to a Museum or Attraction

When the weather is nippy, head for the great indoors! Just some of the attractions and museums that are open are:

 

Metropolitan-Museum-of-Art-NY

 

To find out about other options, read our museums and attractions. Also, take a look at our post on free museums in New York City.


4. Visit an Outdoor Holiday Market 

There are many Christmas markets in NYC. You can shop for one-of-a-kind items including handmade winter clothing, sweaters, hats, mittens, scarves, decorative items, and more.

 

Columbus Circle Holiday Market

 

Find out more about this market and others from our post on the best Christmas markets in NYC

TIP: If you do plan on ice skating here, you can get a free skate rental with the New York Pass!


5. Utilize a Tourist Attraction Discount Pass

If you’re looking to see and do as much as possible, using a New York City tourist attraction discount pass can help you save money and time. 

 

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 Attractions Available on Passes Include:

  • Museum of Modern Art
  • Empire State Building
  • Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour
  • Madame Tussauds
  • 9/11 Memorial and Guided Tour
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Madison Square Garden All Access Tour

These passes save you money by bundling dozens of popular attractions and tours into one discounted ticket (up to 55% off).

They can also save you time by allowing you to skip the ticket lines and numerous locations.

Read our post comparing your options.

For more ideas for any time of year, be sure to read our master post on things to do in NYC.


6. 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.

Read our post on Central Park tours, where you can find out about the many tours available, some free and some with a fee.

 

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If you can’t join us, explore the park on your own using our guide of things to in Central Park and our audio tour

Listen to tour guides Lori and Katherine discuss Central Park on an episode of our NYC Travel Tips podcast.

This podcast offers bite-sized audio clips with tips on how to plan your trip to NYC. You can get our podcasts on Apple, Google, or wherever you get your podcasts.


7. Head 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


8. Walk the High Line – day or night!  

The High Line, a most unusual city park, is built on an abandoned elevated railroad.

A stroll on your own is lovely, but the history of this park is engaging from stories of Titanic survivors to the controversies over the changing cultural landscape of this centuries-old neighborhood in Chelsea. 

 

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We offer several variations of the High Line Park Walking Tours, but if our timing doesn’t fit your schedule, check our post listing other fine tour companies with High Line tours.

We also offer a GPS-enabled audio tour of the High Line narrated by one of our professional guides.

Our downloadable PDF self-guided tour is useful as is our post on things to do on the High Line.


9. Shop Post-Christmas Sales

After Christmas you can find deep discounts at many stores and shopping malls. Our post on Shopping Outlets in NYC will steer you to them.

Check out Woodbury Commons Shopping Outlet, one of the best outlets in New York. 

This giant shopping outlet mall has 220 stores including many upscale stores. Shops offer 25%-65% off items.

 

 

Our post on shopping at Woodbury Commons has everything you need to know to get there, including bus company recommendations and instructions on how to go by train. 


10. New Year’s Eve in Times Square 

If you are in town on December 31st, be part of the world’s most famous New Year’s countdown in Times Square. 

Though this year there will be no in-person event, you can still be part of this age-old tradition virtually via a free broadcast app created by the Times Square Alliance.

Check here for details.

 

 

Times Square is a must-see in New York City and there is plenty to do in December. Read our post on Things to Do in Times Square.


THINGS TO DO AT NIGHT IN DECEMBER

Here are a handful of nighttime activities in NYC in December.

Look through this whole post for other ideas, including going to a concert, a sports event or a Christmas show.

 

 

For more ideas, see our post on Things to Do in New York City at Night.


New York Holiday Lights Walking Tour  

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  Bryant-Park-Ice-Rink

In New York City you have many choices of where to ice skate, at varying prices and all different hours.

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   

Dyker Heights Xmas

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 Sing-A-Long Vigil for John Lennon

December 8th marks the anniversary of John Lennon’s death. In defiance of his tragic fate, thousands of fans head to Strawberry Fields in Central Park to celebrate his life.

Strawberry Fields is located across the street from the Dakota Apartments, the historic building where John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono lived for many years.

Every December 8th, devoted fans come all day long and into the late night to sing songs and pay tribute to the musical legend.  

While you are in Central Park, take the time to stroll this oasis in the city. See our post on things to do in Central Park.


Unsilent Night

A very unusual way to celebrate the holidays! People gather in Washington Square Park to prepare for this one-mile parade in which everyone is invited to bring their own boomboxes or sound-blasters.

Everyone downloads the specific track for the event and then make a lot of noise in unison!

The date has yet to be announced for 2020. Click here for the details of how to participate. 

Learn more about what there is to do in Greenwich Village.

Take a look at our post on things to do in NYC at night for even more suggestions.


FREE THINGS TO DO IN DECEMBER

Here are just a few of the free things you can do in New York City in December. 

Also, be sure to check out the other sections of this post, which contain other free things to do like seeing the Dyker Heights Lights, or going to the Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal.

 

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For even more ideas, check our comprehensive post about free things to do in NYC.


Winter’s Eve at Lincoln Square  

Every December at Lincoln Center, Winter’s Eve is held and features a tree-lighting, sidewalk performers like jugglers and stilt-walkers, and a brass-band dance. 

The 2020 date has not yet been announced. See their website for updates.

If you are interested in the performing arts, Lincoln Center offers tours.

See our post on how to find deals and discounts for the Lincoln Center tour.


Make Music Winter

A free outdoor music-making celebration featuring parades around the city, showcasing many cultures and genres. 

This takes place on December 21, the winter solstice and longest night of the year.  

Check here for the various events around the city.


Santacon 

Every year, hundreds (if not thousands!) of people in NYC dress up as Santa or other holiday figures or symbols and then go on a day-long pub crawl called SantaCon.

Anyone can join in and it’s free to participate. The 2020 date has yet to be announced.

See the SantaCon details here.


Annual Merry Tuba Christmas at Rockefeller Center 

This free annual and noisy event takes place on the famous Rink at Rockefeller Center

You will hear hundreds of tenor and bass tuba players who gather to play Christmas carols and other crowd favorites. 

The date for 2020 has not yet been announced. Keep checking their website

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.

For hundreds of more ideas, check out our post about free things to do in NYC.


THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN DECEMBER 

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 taking our Holiday Lights Tour, going to a zoo, or ice skating.

 

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For lots of other activities, check out our post on things to do with kids in New York City and our 3-day itinerary for families.


Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal

Holiday Train Show at GCT

See vintage Lionel trains traveling through a two-level, 34-foot-long miniature New York City and countryside scene that kids and grown-ups alike will love.

Get all the information here

The 2020 show dates have yet to be announced. 

While you are Grand Central, spend some time exploring one of the most magnificent train terminals in the world with our guide to Grand Central Terminal.


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.


Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden  Holiday Train Show

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 mini replicas of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and Rockefeller Center re-created with only natural materials like bark and leaves.

2020 dates have not yet been announced. For more information, click here.


Stop by FAO Schwarz

This iconic toy store had been located for nearly a century on 5th Avenue and 59th Street.

After shutting its doors in 2015, FAO Schwarz reopened at 30 Rockefeller Plaza . Be sure to visit and dance on their ‘piano keys’ made famous in the movie BIG!

For more ideas for any time of year, be sure to read our complete post on things to do in NYC.


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About the author

Courtney is a lifelong New Yorker fascinated with the city’s history, culture and cuisine. She loves exploring the world, as well as sharing her travel expertise with others.

She joined the Free Tours by Foot team in 2011, first as a guide and then as a writer. She has a law degree, a teaching degree and a worn-out passport. Her motto is “Have backpack, will travel”.