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What to Do in New York in December

Updated: November 20, 2023

This post lists things to do in December 2023 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.

As local tour guides, we compiled this list based on our own experiences, but also by answering your questions.

We lead thousands of people each month through the streets of New York and on every tour you ask us about things to do in the city.

We also grabbed ideas from the roughly 200k members of our popular NYC Travel Tips Facebook group.

The group consists of locals, like our tour guides, expats, veteran travelers, as well as newbies to the Big Apple.

You don't need to join in order to read the posts, comments, and recommendations.

Check out the group once you are finished reading this post. A link is at the bottom of this post.


TOP 10 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 during the holiday, see our post on Christmas in NYC.

Be sure to check out our master post, Things to Do in NYC, for more ideas 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:

Keep in mind that Christmas Day is a public holiday so some hours and closures for activities may occur that day.


1. Attend a Concert

There are so many amazing performers that come through New York City and its surrounding cities.

Whether you're a fan of hard rock, pop music, or even classic 80s tunes, there are plenty of great concerts in the NYC area this December

Concerts

Music Festivals/Holiday Shows

Find out about other holiday performances and concerts from our post, Christmas Shows in NYC for 2023.

Note that one of our own tour guides, Lady Altoviese, puts on her weekly Harlem Gospel and Soul Food Experience on Wednesdays at noon.

Check here for even more concerts in the NYC area this December.

TIP: See the inner workings of Madison Square Garden on their All-Access Tour!


2. Get Tickets to a Broadway Musical

December has some great holiday shows planned.

This includes the annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular which begins its holiday run on November 17th and runs until January 1st, 2024.

You can buy tickets to The Rockettes shows here.

And in the video below, Tour Guide Katie explains how to get cheap tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway shows.

Other shows on Broadway in December include:

See what other shows are on in New York City in December.

If you're looking to see something other than a Broadway show, you might enjoy the holiday favorite, The Nutcracker. Tickets can be purchased here.

TIP: If you want to do more than just see the show, there is a Disney on Broadway tour which includes behind-the-scenes access at a real Broadway theater. 

We also offer a self-guided tour of the Broadway Theater District.

If you're trying to save money, check our post on how to get cheap Broadway tickets.


3. Attend a Sporting Event

December is the middle of the season for the NBA, NFL, and NHL, which means you can expect many regular season games to take place in NYC this month.

Football

Basketball

Hockey

TIP: With so many games at Madison Square Garden this month, you might also want to consider taking a tour of the arena. Admission to this tour is included with some New York tourist passes.


4. See the Rockette's Christmas Spectacular

This annual event will be making its return for the 2023 holiday season, which means you'll have plenty of opportunities to catch the show.

The show runs from November 17th-January 1st with multiple shows each day.

The show has become part of some folks' holiday traditions, and you can look forward to performances throughout the month of December.

Ticket prices start at $49, but most of the cheap seats sell out quickly. You should plan on setting aside at least $80-$150 for tickets.

To purchase tickets, visit this website.

NOTE: You might want to consider combining this experience with a stage door tour of Radio City Music Hall. Tickets are included with some New York tourist passes.


5. 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 holiday decorations in department store windows, the stunning lights at Rockefeller Center, and much more.

You can get a taste of them in the video below, where Tour Guide Katie takes you on a virtual walk of the most popular Christmas displays in NYC.

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

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.


6. See the Rockefeller Christmas Tree 

Every December, just after Thanksgiving, the lights on this iconic Fifth Avenue Christmas Tree are turned on in a tree lighting ceremony.

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

Or, you could watch our short video overview on how to visit the Rockefeller Christmas Tree during the lighting ceremony.

The tree lighting marks the unofficial start of the Christmas Season in NYC. In 2023, the lights go on on November 29th.

Once those are on, many storefront displays, holiday shows, and musicals, as well as light decorations throughout the city, are unveiled. 

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


7. Visit an Outdoor Holiday Market 

There are many Christmas markets in NYC.

A few of these pop-up markets are:

  • The Bank of America Winter Village in Bryant Park
  • The Columbus Circle Holiday Market
  • The Union Square Holiday Market
  • The Market at Westfield World Trade Center
  • Brooklyn Flea Holiday Market

And, in the video below, tour guides Katie and Lori, from Free Tours by Foot, take you on a virtual tour of the Winter Village in Bryant Park.

You can shop for one-of-a-kind items, including handmade winter clothing, sweaters, hats, mittens, scarves, decorative items, and more.

You can also find winter food and drink such as hot chocolate/hot cocoa, and roasted chestnuts.

At the Union Square Market in particular you can find an endless supply of items such as cheesecake, apple cider donuts, hot apple cider, fruits, chocolates, meats, cheeses, curries, and more.

Find out more about these holiday-themed markets 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!


8. 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. 

Or watch our video version of the post and let Katie explain to you how to plan your visit to Woodbury Common Outlet.

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. 


9. Celebrate New Year’s Eve in NYC 

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

Each year folks gather in Times Square to watch the almost 12,000 lb Waterford Crystal ball drop at midnight.

Celebrations have taken place on the square since 1904, and the first ball was dropped in 1907.

And here's Katie once more, this time explaining to you the top ways to ring in the New Year in NYC.

Times Square is a must-see in New York City and there is plenty to do in December.

For more information, read our post on Things to Do in Times Square.

But there is more to do beyond Times Square, including fireworks on the Brooklyn Bridge or in Central Park, and much more.


10. 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. 

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.


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.

And, take a virtual tour of Central Park with Free Tours by Foot's Katie.

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


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. 

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.


Go to a Museum or Attraction

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

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


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.


Take the 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.


Go Ice Skating at Night

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.

A few ice rinks you can visit include:

  • Wollman Rink
  • Chelsea Pier Sky Rink
  • South Street Seaport Rink
  • The Rink at Rockefeller Center

For a map and a full list of rinks, visit here.


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 late at 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.


Take in a Comedy Show

There are some well-known comedians performing in the NYC area in December.

Stand Up Comedy

And if you enjoyed Prarie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor will be celebrating its 50th anniversary with a show at The Town Hall on December 9th.

Comedy Venues

For even more great stand-up performances, check this list of comedy shows in December in the New York City area.

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.

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


Join 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, the longest night of the year.

Check here for the various events around the city.


UNCONFIRMED: Join 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. See the SantaCon details here.


UNCONFIRMED: 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 2023, the 51st year of this sing-a-long, has not yet been announced. Keep checking their website for updates. 

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.

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


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


Catch the Holiday Train Show at the Botanical Gardens

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 over 25 G-scale model trains and trolleys on half a mile of track roar past over 190 New York City landmarks including Brooklyn BridgeStatue of Liberty, and Rockefeller Center.

The show has been returning for over 30 years and takes place this season between November 18th, 2023, and January 15, 2023.

For more information, visit the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show webpage here


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.


Go Sledding in Central Park

There are two popular spots to go sledding in Central Park: Cedar Hill and Pilgrim Hill.

Pilgrim Hill is the most popular spot. It's a bit steep but ends easily. Cedar Hill has a number of slopes for various levels of confidence.

If you want to get outside of Central Park, you could try Riverside Park, Morningside Park, Governor's Island, Prospect Park, or Williamsburg Oval.


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

Stephen Pickhardt

Stephen is the CEO of Free Tours by Foot and has overseen the transformation of a local walking tour company into a global tour community and traveler’s advice platform. He has personally led thousands of group tours in the US and Europe, and is an expert in trip planning and sightseeing, with a focus on budget travelers. Stephen has been published and featured in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo, Washington.org, and more.
Updated: November 20th, 2023
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