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New York City Christmas Activities for Families

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. We’re currently updating for 2023.

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 and tolls 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 12 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 them 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!
10 Things to Do in NYC with Kids This Christmas

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, a smaller tree (with decorations!), and fewer crowds. 2020 brought the addition of cozy igloos and a curling café and both continue for 2023.

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 are plenty of tables to rest at – you might even catch an outdoor movie!

Watch Christmas Performances on Broadway and off Broadway

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall is a must see for 2023! 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.

The Rockettes on stage
November 11, 2018: Dress rehearsal for the upcoming Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

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.

Holiday Cruise with Santa Claus

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 2022 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is an 80 ft tall Norway Spruce, 43 feet wide and weighs 12 tons. It arrived at the plaza in November from Vestal, NY. It will remain unlit until the ceremony on November 29, 2023, 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. How about skating at the ice rink? It’s open daily and is a truly unique experience!

The tree will be lit daily from 5 am-12 am. On Christmas Day, the Tree is lit for 24 hours and on New Year’s Eve it is lit from 5 am to 9 pm.

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

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 and more!

Stare at New York City Department Store Windows

The New York City department store windows are magical. They start unveiling as early as early November! The old standbys are Macy’s Herald Square (34th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues) with the 2022 theme “Give Love”. The display will be up until January 1, 2024

Bloomingdale’s at 60th and Lexington will have a theme of “Best Holiday Ever”. There will be six inspirational windows displaying scenes of a reindeer named Tiptoe enjoying the holiday festivities with her friends Polar Bear and Penguin.

Saks’ theme for this year’s windows on 5th and 49th is being referred to as the “Wheel of Fortune”. For 2023 the light show will run from November 21, 2023 through January 5, 2024.

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.  

A Lord and Taylor window from years past.
A Lord and Taylor window from years past.

Ride a Holiday Nostalgia Train

This holiday season, the New York Transit Museum continues the tradition of placing vintage train cars in regular service every Sunday between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Find more details on the New York Transit Museum website.

Take a walk through Central Park

Are you heading toward Central Park instead? The park has some events like a Holiday Lights Park and City Carriage Ride and Holiday Walking Tour. Wollman Rink is open for public skating.

Would you rather view animals than ride them? The Central Park Zoo is open daily as well.

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 pine cones, acorns, and seeds.

New York City Christmas activities

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

Brookfield Place

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 Keith Michael’s The Nutcracker, Selfies with 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 Sunday, December 3, 2023, 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.

NYSoM “HolidayMania” 2023

  • Celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years All in one day. Upon entry to “HolidayMania”, hang out with the Dreidelator and all members of Hanukkah Town.
  • Get your free tickets to NYSoM “HolidayMania” 2023.

Take a holiday safari with the Bronx Zoo: Holiday Lights

  • A beloved holiday tradition returns! Discover the holiday season at the Bronx Zoo for a global safari in lights featuring illuminated animals from all over the world. There are five lantern safaris, spread out throughout the park each showcasing a different wildlife region that will lead you on a fun, safe, and leisurely tour of the attractions. Feel the holiday spirit with roaming carolers, ice carving, hot cocoa and marshmallows, stilt walkers and a beautifully decorated holiday tree. Lights, lanterns, musical revelry and more await you at what is sure to be a festive good time.
  • Valid for entry after 3:00 pm on November 17, 2023 – January 7, 2024.
  • Click to buy Bronx Zoo: Holiday Lights discount tickets.

Light up your night at the NYC Winter Lantern Festival

  • NYC Winter Lantern Festival is back for a fifth year at NYC.
    • SIUH Community Park (new venue) will be transformed into an immersive world of light! Starting from 10/21/2022 until 1/08/2023, take a Journey To The East with friends and family to explore the wonders of over 1000 Chinese lanterns; all handmade by artisans with decades of dedication to their craft.
    • Queens County Farm will be transformed into an immersive world of light! From 11/17/23 to 1/07/23, enter and wander an unforgettable radiant oasis with friends and family as we 𝙄𝙡𝙡𝙪𝙢𝙞𝙣𝙖𝙩𝙚 𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙁𝙖𝙧𝙢.

More Christmas Activities near New York City

Not too far from the city are these New York Christmas activities

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!

10 Things to Do with Kids in NYC This Christmas

Click over to see the rest of our Family Travel to New York City series.

Family Travel to New York City Series

Holiday & Christmas Things to Do in New Jersey with Kids

Updating for 2023.

Ultimate Guide to Christmas Family Fun With Kids
Best Christmas Towns in New Jersey
New Jersey Neighborhoods With Lots of Christmas Lights

To arrange a feature on your location contact Jennifer Auer, Jersey Family Fun publisher.

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