We originally published this list of New York City Christmas activities and the must see Christmas attractions in New York City in 2013, but we update this annually to include the newest New York City Christmas attractions.
The smell of roasting chestnuts
Sidewalk Santas ringing bells
Gazing into department store windows
It’s Christmas in New York City!
This is my family’s yearly tradition! For some of you this might give you the shakes. The crowds, the cold, the traffic, the CROWDS. Yes, it can be intimidating and it might seem much more fun to snuggle under a blanket by your tree and watch a Christmas movie, but if you follow some of these tips for visiting NYC at Christmastime … with kids, having a day in New York City at Christmastime can be memorable and maybe even become your tradition too. Get ready for these New York City Christmas activities for families.
5 Tips for Visiting NYC at Christmastime with kids!
- Figure out how you’re getting there. Driving can save money, but parking might break your budget. Take a look at some parking apps before you go for discounts or spot reservations. If you have a car you can drive in instead of a SUV you’ll save money as well. There are plenty of mass transit options, PATH, NJTransit, Seastreak Ferry and NY Waterway. Up to certain ages and on certain days kids ride free – and everyday kids 11 and under ride free on NY Waterway ferry! There are also private bus companies operating out of different areas of New Jersey that could offer a stress free ride into midtown.
- Decide what’s most important to see. Is it store windows? The Rockefeller Tree? Santa at Macy’s? All of those are located close to each other and you can probably see all in one day.
- Remember that now Macy’s Santa is available by reservation ONLY. Make sure you check this website and make your reservation (scheduling begins November 25) so as not to have disappointed kids! But as mentioned – THE CROWDS – even when you reserve.
- Be sure to keep expectations low in case it takes too long or is just too cold to get anywhere.
- Consider visiting on a weekday. The rush hour traffic/congestion might be worse, but the visiting crowds will be better! Factor in social distancing and limited capacity will also affect crowd size and wait times.
Now that we’ve shared our tips for visiting New York City with kids it’s time to help you find things to do in New York City with kids.
New York City Christmas activities for Kids, Teens, & Families
Travel through a Winter Village at Bryant Park
Aside from the previous mentions, my personal favorite is the Winter Village at Bryant Park (located between 5th and 6th Avenues, and 40 and 42 Streets). There you’ll find a smaller ice rink, smaller tree (with decorations!), and fewer crowds. 2020 also brings the addition of cozy igloos and a curling cafe. There are also plenty of places to eat and shop, and just take a load off those tired feet. The smaller feels cozier to me, and there’s plenty of tables to rest at – you might even catch an outdoor movie! Their tree lighting ceremony date for 2020 has not been set yet.
Watch Christmas Performances on Broadway and off Broadway
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall is a must see! This year there are plenty of live shows to see including Twas The Night Before by Cirque Du Soleil at Madison Square Garden, performances of The Nutcracker throughout the city, and plenty of family friendly Broadway shows. If you find yourself going into the city for any of those, you can surely take a detour to see the Rockefeller Center Tree or the Bryant Park tree.
Santa’s NYC Sing-a-Long Adventure
- Santa, Mrs. Claus and the elves rehearse their songs for the big Pre-Christmas Eve show at the North pole when they stumble into a wormhole that transports them to New York City. Santa’s NYC Sing-a-Long Adventure is perfect fun for the whole family, including both original songs and holiday classics. Join them at Broadway Comedy Club in a spectacular Christmas sing-a-long as they practice for their big show and help them find the wormhole back to the North Pole before it closes.
- Get your Santa’s NYC Sing-a-long Adventure discount tickets.
Kids Meet the Big Guy at Breakfast With Santa
- With the holidays approaching, give your kids a chance to get up close and personal with ol’ Saint Nick himself at Breakfast with Santa. This morning meet-and-greet includes a yummy continental breakfast, the opportunity to pose for photos and present a holiday wish list to the big guy in red at New York’s Broadway Comedy Club. In addition, Elfprov (from the minds behind Improv 4 Kids) performs an interactive musical comedy starring Santa’s favorite helpers. For an extra-special holiday treat, go VIP for reserved stage-side seats, priority access to Santa and tasty treats at your table.
- Get your Kids Meet the Big Guy at Breakfast With Santa discount tickets.
See the Rockefeller Center Tree
In 1931 a group of construction workers set up the first (unofficial) Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza (5th Avenue, 48th-51st Streets). How far we’ve come! The 2019 Rockefeller Center Tree is 70-75 years old and 77 feet tall. It will arrive at the plaza on November 9. It will remain unlit until the ceremony on December 4 when 50,000 lights will be switched on! The lighting is a nationally televised event with celebrities but there are other events on the plaza too. What about a Merry Tuba Christmas concert on December 15 at 3:30? Or a twirl on the ice rink? It’s open daily and is a truly unique experience! The tree will remain at the plaza until January 17.
Check out this special Christmas event at Rockefeller Center, Santa’s Sing-A-Long by Rockefeller Center & Pics With Santa.
Santa’s Sing-A-Long by Rockefeller Center & Pics With Santa
- The whole family can be part of the Christmas spirit with songs and pictures at Santa’s Sing-A-Long! Even shy and introverted attendees sing louder and clearer when Santa’s reindeer need music and cheer to fly. With much more than just beautiful ornaments and holiday decorations, this magical event draws you into making long-lasting memories.
- Get discount tickets to Santa’s Sing-A-Long by Rockefeller Center & Pics With Santa.
Visit the Paley Center for Media’s Holiday Exhibit – confirming for 2020
Visit the Paley Center for Media (25 West 52 Street) for its transformation into a wonderland during “It’s Holiday Time in Paleyland.” Free hot cocoa, visits with Santa, nonstop Holiday classics to view, it’s a must see FREE event. Our Jersey Family Fun writer got to visit on opening night in 2016!
Stare at New York City Department Store Windows
The New York City department store windows are magical. They start unveiling as early as November 10th! The old standbys are Macy’s Herald Square (34th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues) with the 2019 theme “Believe in the Wonder,” with a November 21 reveal. Saks on 5th and 49th will feature Frozen 2 and on November 25 Elsa herself, Idina Menzel will perform for the crowds! They also have a nightly lightshow on the Saks building. Bloomingdale’s at 60th and Lexington will have a theme of “Out of This World” and will unveil on November 22 with a performance from John Legend. Tiffany’s on 5th and Bergdorf Goodman at 5th and 57th Street have also put on a show in past years. The window displays are a distinctly New York thing, where you can be transported to old time NYC, or look at the highest of high fashion.
Ride a train to the New York Transit Museum’s Holiday Train Show
Maybe your travel plans bring you into Grand Central Terminal (42nd Street and Park Avenue)? While you’re there, check out the New York Transit Museum’s Holiday Train Show. The 18th annual display is open from November 21 – February 23. There will also be a holiday fair with vendors every day until Christmas Eve.
Take a walk through Central Park
Are you heading toward Central Park instead? The park has some events like a guided holiday walking tour and a marionette show, “Yeti, Set, Snow!”. Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink are open daily for public skate. The iconic horse and carriage rides are available at Central Park South between 5th and 6th. Would you rather view animals than ride them? The Central Park Zoo is open daily from 10 AM – 5:30 PM.
Choo choo over to the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train
If trains are REALLY your thing, look into the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train show (2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx). Reservations are recommended. The Bronx is further than Manhattan for most of us, but it’s a show to be seen.
Marvel at model trains zipping through an enchanting display of more than 175 famous New York landmarks—imagine the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Center, and other favorites—each delightfully re-created from natural materials such as birch bark, acorns, and cinnamon sticks. This year’s show—presented in an immersive indoor winter wonderland adjacent to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory—showcases Central Park, with its iconic landscape fashioned in mosses and hollies, and architectural treasures such as Belvedere Castle. Make your best holiday memories with crafts and carolers, seasonal treats, a visit from Thomas the Tank Engine™, and so much more!
- Shows run from Saturday, November 23, 2019 – Sunday, January 26, 2020.
- Click to buy New York Botanical Garden’s “Holiday Train Show” discount tickets from $8-$25.
Ooh and ahh over the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights and Displays
Are you driving in? Consider taking a nighttime detour to Dyker Heights, Brooklyn for the outrageous Christmas displays. Live nativities, live Santas, lights to rival the Osborne Family … you won’t be disappointed! Find them anywhere from 80th to 85th Streets between Tenth and Fourteenth Avenues.
Every holiday season, residents of Dyker Heights, Brooklyn transform their quaint neighborhood of historic homes and tree-lined streets into a festive winter wonderland decked out with so many lights that it’s been called “Con Ed’s warmest heartthrob.” You’ll feel that warmth on this guided stroll through block after block of bedazzled homes and lawns — and then if you purchase discount tickets to tour a Glowing Christmas Paradise in Dyker Heights you can hop on a bus to see how the famous decorations in Rockefeller Center and Washington Square measure up against the homegrown cheer of Dyker Heights.
Bundle up and be ready for crowds. Get your discount tickets to tour a Glowing Christmas Paradise in Dyker Heights.
Not to be outdone by other New York City Christmas attractions Brookfield Place (230 Vesey Street) will offer Christmas fun in New York City. This season they will have a free performance of the Nutcracker, Santa, and the Luminaries light show as well.
More New York City Christmas Activities for kids
Find Santa in New York City
Is Macy’s Santaland too chaotic? There are plenty of other places to see Santa in NYC! Check out Bloomingdales, Bryant Park, even ABC Carpet & Home have hosted Santa Claus. And on December 15th, you can see a Santa Rescue at the New York City Fire Museum. Viewing the rescue is free, but seeing Santa inside requires advance tickets.
Take in some Cocoa & Carols on the Yacht Manhattan
- Soak up the sights of New York’s spectacular holiday light displays and Lady Liberty herself from an entirely different perspective — one which just happens to include hot chocolate, cookies and a festive family sing-along to a live band, on the swanky Yacht Manhattan. There’s also a full bar on board, for those adults seeking a little extra dose of Christmas cheer.
- Events run from Saturday, November 23 – Sunday, December 29, 2019
- Click to buy Cocoa & Carols on the Yacht Manhattan discount tickets are $57.60.
Take a holiday safari with the Bronx Zoo: Holiday Lights
- The animals that live at the Bronx Zoo have decorated their home for the holidays, and they invite you to come check it out! Lights, lanterns, musical revelry and more await you at what is sure to be a roaring good time.
- Valid for entry after 3:00pm on November 21-24, 29, 30; December 1-23, 26-31; January 3-5.
- Click to buy Bronx Zoo: Holiday Lights discount tickets from $19 – $24.50
Light up your night at the NYC Winter Lantern Festival
- Ready to step into a world of light and color? There will be over 1,000 lanterns on display, sculpted into magnificent figures of luminescent art. After its success last year, the NYC Winter Lantern Festival is back to transform Staten Island’s Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden into a whimsical world of light. Bring your whole family to wonder at eight acres of lights, live cultural shows, interactive exhibits, and more. The cultural performances include: Plate/Bowl Spinning, Seesaw Bowl Balance, Hoop Tumbling, Straw Hat Juggling, Hand to Hand Act, Tibetan Folk Dance and a Face-changing Magician, which is a sub-genre of Chinese Sichuan Opera — performers wear vibrant costumes and magically swap traditional opera masks from one to another. The dining options will feature international eats with Asian flair, and the gift shop has teamed up with local artists and craftsmen specializing in illustration and Chinese-influenced lanterns.
- Any available day through January 12, 2020
- Click to buy NYC Winter Lantern Festival discount tickets from 0 – $24.
More Christmas Activities near New York City
Not too far from the city are these New York Christmas activities
’Twas the Night Before Christmas
- Honestly, is there a better way to ring in December than by creating theatrical holiday memories with friends and family? You’ll have visions of sugarplums dancing in your head for days after this delightful staging of an absolute Christmas classic at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts.
- Get your ’Twas the Night Before Christmas discount tickets.
Cirque Musica: Holiday Wishes
- Cirque Musica invites you and your family to wish this holiday season. Cirque Musica presents Holiday Wishes brings a holiday story to life in a full theatrical cirque event for the entire family. Featuring the world-renowned cast of Cirque Musica with your favorite holiday hits all performed live by a full symphony orchestra. Audiences will be amazed by the acrobats, aerialists, hilarious hijinks and holiday cheer. The show blends the spellbinding grace and daredevil athleticism of today’s greatest circus performers with the sensory majesty of a symphony orchestra. Cirque Musica presents Holiday Wishes is the perfect opportunity for the entire family to experience great holiday music while enjoying an edge-of-your-seat circus experience.
- Get your Cirque Musica: Holiday Wishes discount tickets.
Christmas for Jews (aka Xmas for Jews)
- This annual epic show by opera singer and entertainer David Serero returns this season with more songs of Chanukah and Christmas, featuring Jewish music, Russian music and Jewish comedy! Singing, dancing and laughing are guaranteed!
- Get your discount tickets to Christmas for Jews (aka Xmas for Jews).
As you can see there really are more than 10 New York City Christmas activities. Maybe your children just want to see where the movies Miracle on 34th Street or Elf take place. Whatever you end up doing, make it memorable! Take lots of pictures, dress warm, and enjoy the magic. Oh and have a hot pretzel for me!
Did we leave off your favorite NYC Christmas event? Do you have tips for visiting NYC at Christmastime ? Let us know in the comments below!
Click over to see the rest of our Family Travel to New York City series.
For more New Jersey Christmas Activities visit these blog posts and listings
- New Jersey Christmas Lights Displays
- Holiday Parades in New Jersey
- The Best Christmas Trees to See in New Jersey
- Where and How to Get Unique Santa Pictures in New Jersey
- New Jersey Christmas Tree Farms
- Meals with Santa Events in New Jersey
- New Jersey Holiday Train Shows with Christmas Train Sets on Display
- New Jersey Christmas Train Rides
- Live Nativity Scenes in New Jersey
- The Best FREE Things to do in Philadelphia with Kids this Christmas
- 10 Things to Do in New York City with Kids During Christmas
- Holiday movies for your next family movie night
For your holiday and Christmas Shopping take a look at these posts
To arrange a feature on your location contact Jennifer Auer, Jersey Family Fun publisher.