This post lists the many things to do in December in New York City, including a top-10 as well family-friendly events, things to do at night, and of course, free activities. December is big on holidays including Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, so you may also find our guide visiting New York during the holidays to be helpful. Be sure to check out our extensive list of Things to Do in NYC or our guides for other months for even more ideas.
ELF The Musical December 13, 2017-December 29, 2017
The off-broadway musical ELF and is the funny and touching story of a young orphan named Buddy who sneaks into Santa’s bag of toys and ends up in the North Pole! Growing up in the North Pole has hm convinced he is an elf. But he’s a bit too tall and terrible at making toys, and it becomes obvious to Buddy that he, in fact, is a human. Buddy goes to New York searching for his birth father. Along the way, he finds joy, sorrow and they the true meaning of Christmas. For ELF movie fans, check out our pay-what-you-likeNYC Christmas Movie Tourthat visits sites from the movie.
For fans of Elf, Home Alone 2, Serendipity, Scrooged and Miracle on 34th Street, this tour is for you. 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, you will also see some of the beautiful holiday decorations and displays during the tour. If you prefer to guarantee to be warm, there is a bus version of this tour, for a fee but a very reasonable one.
Harlem Gospel Holiday Celebration Dec. 23 and Dec 25 at 10:15 am, $20 per person
You may have been wondering hearing some Gospel while you are here and this event is just one of many ways for to experience the inspirational power and joy of a gospel choir. This event is at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, 201 Lenox Avenue in Harlem. Mount Olivet is an almost century-old congregation whose church is actually a former temple which they purchased in 1925. Not only will you hear beautiful voices but you will see a very lovely gem with beautiful stained glass windows. To buy tickets and get specific information see their website Harlem Gospel Holiday Celebration.
Visit Winter Village in Bryant Park October 28 to January 5, 2018, Free
NYC is filled with one of a kind pop-up markets in December and even if you just want to ‘window-shop’, Winter Village at Bryant Park (pictured on right) 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. To find out about the other markets see our post on the Top Ten Christmas Markets in New York City.
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.
If you cant make it up to the New York Botanical Gardens train shown above, this Train Show is more centrally located. You also get the double bonus of visiting the spectacular Grand Central Terminal layout features Lionel trains traveling through a two-level, 34-foot-long miniature New York City and countryside scene. Vintage trains from the museum’s collection, including New York Central models, travel all the way to the diorama’s the North Pole. Get all the information here.
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 audio guides or self-guided tour, or join one of the many free Grand Central Tours offered. See our post What to See and Do in Grand Central Station.
Kwanzaa Celebration at the Apollo Theater December 30 at 2 pm & 7:30 pm Tickets: $20; Premium $35
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. 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. You can also take a look at our Guide to Harlem or take one of our pay-what-you-likeHarlem Walking Tours. We also offer GPS audio tours, including one of Harlem.
The Nutcracker BalletNovember 24 – December 31, 2017, Prices vary
The Nutcracker Ballet is a sure sign that Christmas season has arrived. If you haven’t seen it before, the George Balanchine choreographed version will be performed by the acclaimed New York City Ballet. Visit the New York City Ballet website for information. It’s being performed at the H. Koch Theater which is part of Lincoln Center. If prices are too hefty for your budget, there is a chance to see a portion of this ballet performed in Lower Manhattan. See below for more information.
Woodbury Common Outlets “Boxing Day” Sale December 26
If you haven’t yet heard of Woodbury Common Shopping Outlet, it is one of THE best outlets in New York. 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! Woodbury Commons is only one hour north of New York City and worth the easy ride to get there. (FYI: (Boxing Day is a British holiday celebrated the day after Christmas, sounds like a good time to have a sale!)
SantaCon December 9 at 10:00 am or join in any time after Free with $10 cash donation to charity
So if you love Santa Claus and you love pub crawls, you are gonna love SantaCon. Show up in your best Santa costume, even a cheap $3 Santa hat counts, and join thousands of other Santas, elves, reindeer and more as they crawl off from pub to pub throughout the city. Even if you aren’t a drinker, it is still an amazing event. Just the sight of New York City taken over by thousands of Santas is a unique event.
It’s true that you may have to bundle up on New York City nights in December, especially toward the end of the month. But with the December cold comes December fun! Lot’s of activities that you only occur in December. Take advantage of them! For more ideas, see our post on Top 10 Things to Do in New York City at Night and our New York Night Tours. Also, be sure to check out the other sections of this post, as many of these other ideas are possible at night.
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 Dates and prices vary by venue
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. See our post on Where to go Ice-skating in New York City.
See the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights dates vary: free on your own or pay-what-you-like for a guided tour
Word is out! For years only locals knew about the wacky competitiveness for best Christmas decorations among the homeowners of Dyker Heights. If you haven’t already heard about the Dyker Heights lights in Brooklyn, now you do and you should think about checking it out. 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.
You can also join us for our pay-what-you-wish guided walking tour. Our guide knows the best houses to go to and the history of the origins of the Dyker Heights seasonal insanity.
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.
Christmas Caroling in Gramercy Park December 24, 2017
This is the closest you might get to a miracle this season. On Christmas Eve, the Gramercy Block Association opens the otherwise locked gates to the exclusive and elusive Gramercy Park. The park is located in the historic and beautiful Gramercy Park neighborhood. Its stately mansions from the late 19th Century surround the gated and lush private park (only local residents have access). This caroling event is part holiday spirit, part once-a-year chance to see inside this famous New York park. Find out the details by clicking on the Association’s website. Use our free self-guided tour of Gramercy Park and nearby Union Square. to learn about its rich history and elite culture that makes it a sumptuous neighborhood today.
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 severalpay-what-you-like tours of Central Parkincluding a tour of the lower section and one of the middle section. See our post on Central Park tours, where you can find out about the many tours available, some free and some with a fee. 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.
One-hour Nutcracker Ballet performance Fri. Dec. 1, 7 pm and Sat. Dec. 2 at 1:00 pm and 7:00 pm
If the ticket costs of the full-length ballet are outside of your budget, you can see this free one-hour version performed in Lower Manhattan’s Brookfield Place located in the World Trade Center district. This is a rare opportunity to enjoy this classic ballet. Seating is first come, first served and early arrival is strongly suggested. Click here for all the information on the performance. Plan some walking in your day before watching ballet! Try one of our pay-what-you-likeLower 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.
Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden Nov. 22, 2017 – Jan. 15, 2018 Prices vary
It’s worth taking a bit a slightly longer subway train ride 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 Midtown Manhattan and showcases New York’s iconic skyscrapers and other architectural beauties. For more information, click here.
44th Annual Merry Tuba Christmas at Rockefeller Center December 17, 2017, at 3:30 pm Free
This kinda wacky event has been put on for over 4 decades so they must be doing something right! 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 by seeing 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 location, hours and prices vary
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.