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How to spend Christmas in NYC with kids

These festive, family-friendly events will make Christmas in NYC with kids extra special

Written by Rossilynne Skena Culgan (Time Out) in association with Madison Square Garden

It’s the most magical time of year in NYC. The city sparkles with joy and wonder, as kids of all ages (and adults too) get swept up in the holiday spirit. Christmas in the city is one of the most festive times of year, and Christmas in NYC with kids is even more special with these events that will bring holiday cheer to the whole family. Once you’ve picked out your Christmas tree, you can see a spectacular holiday light show, take a few spins on an ice skating rink, shop holiday markets and more. These family-friendly events are sure to make everyone merry and bright. Once you’re done, warm up with a mug of hot chocolate and snuggle up at home with a time-honored classic Christmas movie.

Christmas in NYC with kids

  • Things to do

The Rockefeller Christmas Tree (NYC’s pride and joy) is a beaming and brilliant symbol of the holiday season. Tourists and native New Yorkers alike sure do love this towering tree.

The tree will be lit daily from 5am to midnight daily after a special light-up night ceremony on Wednesday, November 29. On Christmas Day, the tree is lit for 24 hours and on New Year’s Eve it is lit from 5am to 9pm. The tree goes dark for the season at 10pm on January 13.

More than 50,000 multi-colored LED lights wrap around the branches. It's topped with a three-dimensional Swarovski star that weighs 900 pounds and sparkles in 3 million crystals. Architect Daniel Libeskind designed the stunning star in 2018.

  • Things to do

The Dyker Heights Christmas Lights display has definitely earned its stripes as one of the best New York attractions. What’s not to love about all that razzle-dazzle to get you in the Christmas spirit?

The Brooklyn neighborhood is home to the most over-the-top Christmas light decorations with life-sized Santas, sleighs, snowmen and some houses even bump Christmas carols from loudspeakers. Crowds of all ages flock to the Kings County neighborhood to wander down the multiple blocks and avenues.

Most houses are decorated starting the weekend after Halloween through early January.

You can walk through on your own, but a tour might be a little easier. Bus tours are back from A Slice of Brooklyn, Dyker Heights Christmas Lights and many more. There's even a Spanish language tour—vamos!

  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs

The Winter Village at Bryant Park is back in all its holiday glory. On the grounds you can peruse more than 180 shopping and food kiosks—all at one of the best NYC parks. Expect loads of handmade, unique and New York City-specific gifts for your family and friends. Work up an appetite at the 17,000-square-foot ice-skating rink and then fill up at the rinkside pop-up restaurant called The Lodge for festive cocktails and hearty food.

Don't miss the Small Business Spotlight booth, which features local minority-owned businesses.

The Winter Village will be open through March 3, 2024.

  • Art
  • Art

GingerBread Lane—the world's largest gingerbread village—will return to Manhattan with NYC-inspired designs. Artist Jon Lovitch has been working on the detailed gingerbread display all year long. 

Year after year, Lovitch whips up thousands of pounds of icing and bakes hundreds of pounds of gingerbread to create massive gingerbread towns. Expect to see about 1,000 gingerbread houses, stores, breweries, dance studios, pizzerias, bakeries, ice cream parlors and more at the display. Look for pink nutcrackers drawn from the decor at Essex House, an ice rink as a nod to Rockefeller Center, a few homes that resemble those in Forest Hills, Queens, and lots of other NYC-inspired details. 

Find GingerBread Lane at Chelsea Market in Manhattan from November 26 to January 7 near the hallway with the twinkling lights. It'll be on view during market hours, 8am-9am daily.

  • Theater
  • Musicals

You’ll get a kick out of this holiday stalwart, which still features Santa, wooden soldiers and the dazzling Rockettes. In recent years, new music, more eye-catching costumes and advanced technology have been introduced to bring audience members closer to the performance.

In the signature kick line that finds its way into most of the big dance numbers, the Rockettes’ 36 pairs of legs rise and fall like the batting of an eyelash, their perfect unison a testament to the disciplined human form. This is precision dancing on a massive scale—a Busby Berkeley number come to glorious life—and it takes your breath away.

  • Art
  • Art

Rockefeller Center, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Bronx Zoo, the Apollo Theater and more iconic New York City landmarks have been shrunken down and sugar-fied into gingerbread re-creations. Twenty-three gingerbread houses comprise this year's "Gingerbread NYC: The Great Borough Bake-Off" at the Museum of the City of New York.

The display will be on view from November 10 through January 15 at the museum on the Upper East Side. The exhibition is included with general admission, which costs $20/person. Local judges awarded honors to the top-placing entries, but everyone can vote on their favorite for the People's Choice award.

  • Things to do

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is bringing back its gorgeous, after-dark illuminated spectacular to its grounds from November 17, 2023–January 1, 2024.

Lightscape, an illuminated trail of art from local and international artists, features the iconic Winter Cathedral and a larger Fire Garden—all set to over a million lights, color and music. This year, it has been reimagined with a longer trail and new immersive experiences along the way, including “Supernova,” a 24-foot-high illuminated Moravian star, a sparkling new Chandelier Walk and a giant red poppy blossoms of Floraison that hover above the trail.   

As always, a curated playlist of music brings the light art to life, but this year, BBG is celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop with “Kaleido Circle,” an illuminated area in Oak Circle that will play a mix of hip-hop songs by influential Brooklyn musicians, curated by Queens-based artist Sherwin Banfield.

Of course, there will be food concessions along the trail that will still offer seasonal treats like hot cocoa and hot cider, as well as light bites, cookies and sweets.

Tickets are now on sale for the event. This year’s show offers off-peak and peak pricing: Regular admission tickets are $39 peak/$34 off-peak for adults and $19 peak/$17 off-peak for children ages 3–12. BBG member tickets are $29 peak/$24 off-peak for adults and $14 peak/$12 off-peak for children ages 3–12. Children 2 and under enter for free.

  • Things to do

Let it GLOW at the New York Botanical Garden this year at its fourth annual NYBG Glow. The outdoor light experience will brighten up the grounds with thousands of energy-efficient LED lights and festive installations. After dark, you can walk through this 1.5-mile colorful pathway featuring whimsical, picture-perfect installations. The experience reflects the surrounding gardens and collections with the Haupt Conservatory and Mertz Library Building as glowing centerpieces. It's all an ideal backdrop for a family holiday photo opp.

Beverages and light fare will be available at NYBG’s outdoor bars or the Bronx Night Market Holiday Pop-Up.

GLOW is available on the following dates: November 17, 24, & 25; December 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23, 26–30, 2023; January 6 & 13, 2024. It runs each night from 5-10pm.

Tickets, which can be paired with Holiday Train Show tickets for a little bit more money, are on sale now. GLOW plus train show tickets cost $54/adult and $39/child ages 2-12.

  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions

The beloved New York holiday train tradition at the New York Botanical Garden, going on for over 30 years, is back as of November 17 and bigger than ever.

Watch model trains zip past nearly 200 famous New York landmarks, like the Empire State Building, Radio City Music Hall, the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and Rockefeller Center—all made of natural materials such as leaves, cinnamon sticks, twigs, bark and berries. The garden meticulously maintains its collection of 25 G-scale model trains that’ll chug along a nearly half-mile track (which is also overhead) in the warmth of the Conservatory. 

Or head outside to the all-new, outdoor train display. Be sure to snap a holiday photo at the garden's brand new mountainscape. 

While you're there, check out GLOW, a gorgeous outdoor light show.

Also mark your calendar for Bar Car Nights, 21+ evenings featuring the Holiday Train Show and curated cocktails. These special evenings feature music, experiences, food, and more—making for an ultimate adults-only night out.

The train show is on view through January 15, 2024.

  • Things to do
  • Midtown East

For the first time since 2020, the New York Transit Museum is back with its beloved Holiday Train Show!

The exhibit features Lionel model trains traveling along a 34-foot-long, two-level, “O” gauge model train layout that winds its way through some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, including a mini Grand Central. 

It’s a fun display to show your kids or a sweet way to pass your time at Grand Central before you catch your train since it’s located at the New York Transit Museum Gallery & Store in Grand Central Terminal, Shuttle Passage.

Tickets are $5 per person and must be purchased in advance. Tickets become available three weeks in advance of a given date, on a rolling basis.

All aboard!

  • Things to do

Train aficionados of all ages are certain to be transfixed by the scenic components of this show, featuring trains and toys from the Jerni Collection dating all the way back to 1850. With its unique, handcrafted and hand-painted pieces, the collection epitomizes the golden age of toy manufacture and transportation.

This year's exhibit includes toys that have never before been on display, including a magical castle, a sleek monorail and a charming miniature toy shop. The display also includes a toy plane version of a luxurious Pan Am Stratocruiser, a toy shop with miniature toys made in Germany in the early 1900s and a toy monorail made for the Leland Detroit Manufacturing Co. in 1932.

Lighting and accompanying music immerse visitors in the exhibit on the first floor of the New-York Historical Society & Museum on the Upper West Side. The exhibit's on view from November 24, 2023-February 4, 2024.

  • Things to do
  • City Life

The latest skating destination takes over a pretty iconic local landmark: the Oculus shopping mall inside the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan.

Starting November 24 through January 2024, folks with a penchant for skating will get to do so beneath the beautiful architecture that defines the legendary structure while also enjoying live musical performances. 

The Winter Whirl roller rink will also host a wide selection of local food and beverage vendors—Eataly! Gansevoort Liberty Market! Épicerie Boulud!—and retail options, making holiday shopping easier.

Tickets, which can be found right here, include a 45-minute skating session and a rental pair of roller skates.

  • Things to do
  • Events & Festivals

The Oculus is getting into the holiday spirit with a new activation called Christmas House NYC. Visitors can walk through more than a dozen themed rooms featuring snow, holiday movies, karaoke and more. 

This all-ages walk-through experience opens on November 24 with tickets available through January 2 priced at $40/adult and $35/child. 

Interactive activities include The Snowball Fight Room, where visitors can revel in snowfall and even toss snowballs. Inside the Snow Lodge Movie Theater, Elf plays on repeat on a 25-foot screen. The Blockbuster Video Room stirs nostalgia with its lifelike movie counter and VHS tapes. Other rooms include the Christmas Karaoke Party Room and The Holidays Inn Hotel, all decorated in Christmas splendor. 

  • Attractions

The Bronx Zoo’s sparkling seasonal outdoor celebration featuring animated lights and LED displays of animals from around the world is back this year.

Expect the zoo to dazzle with 400 wildlife lanterns representing 100 species spread across an expansive area of the zoo. This year, the display showcases the wildlife of New York's ocean waters and wetlands, plus a new interactive experience celebrating bioluminescent creatures. Sixty-four new lanterns representing nine new animal species will make their debut this year.

Holiday Lights will run at the Bronx Zoo on select dates November 17 through January 7. 

  • Things to do
  • Events & Festivals

As far as immersive experiences go, this one is bound to be delicious: Now through January 2, 2024, Rockefeller Center will be home to a Candy Cottage of Christmas Magic—which is exactly what it sounds like.

Ticketed guests will basically get to pluck candies off walls before setting off on a scavenger hunt through Rockefeller Center following instructions on an exclusive map handed out to all visitors. Upon completion of the game, folks will return to a transformed cottage to grab some more sweets. 

Tickets, which range from $25 to $45 depending on the day of the week and time you plan on attending, are available for purchase here.

  • Art
  • Art

An institution housing a colossal blue whale, massive dinosaur skeletons and thousands of glittering gemstones couldn't display just any ordinary holiday decor, of course. Instead, the American Museum of Natural History proudly presents a spectacular origami holiday tree each year. 

About 2,000 colorful origami animals decorate the 13-foot-tall tree, a tradition dating back more than 50 years. Volunteers from around the world carefully fold the intricate ornaments, focusing on a theme that relates to the museum. This year's theme, "Proboscideans on Parade," was inspired by the new exhibit "The Secret World of Elephants."

See the Origami Holiday Tree at the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side throughout the holiday season. Find it in the Ellen V. Futter Gallery on the first floor. Visiting the tree is included with museum admission.

  • Things to do

If SantaCon is a little too raucous for you, ElfCon has got you covered. This family-friendly hot cocoa crawl is made even sweeter by the fact that proceeds go to charity. 

On Sunday, December 10, kids and their families are invited to roam NYC in elf costumes as part of this fun event. Meet up to find the Chief Elf, then head with your fellow elves to participating cocoa locations. The start location will be announced closer to the event date.

Those who donate online will be eligible for a special Elf Passport to be stamped at each cocoa location, leading up to a special prize. Proceeds will go to The Trevor Project and the Making Headway Foundation. Get tickets here.

  • Things to do

Two million twinkling white lights adorn Hudson Yards for the shopping center's annual Shine Bright event. The display includes 115 mSiles of string lights, 725 evergreen trees dressed to create a gleaming forest, 16-foot tall illuminated hot air balloon decorations and a massive 32-foot hot air balloon centerpiece suspended in The Great Room of The Shops & Restaurants.

In addition to the awe-inspiring light display, there are plenty of photo opportunities, chances to visit Santa and stores to shop for everyone on your list. 

Shine Bright runs from November 13, 2023 through January 7, 2024.

  • Things to do

The 640 colorful lanterns created by the LAB at Rockwell Group are back at Brookfield Place for the season, ready to dance in a symphony of colors.

Open daily now through January 6, 2024 between 10am and 8pm, visitors will be able to send a motion-activated wish into the glowing lanterns up above. There's something simply magical about sending holiday wishes into a light-filled display of beauty. 

The destination will also host light shows every hour set to holiday songs including "Winter Wonderland" by Michael Bublé, "Silver Bells" by Tony Bennett, "Carol of the Bells" by The Bird and The Bee and "Let It Snow" by Pentatonix. Here's the schedule of performances.

Expect to be amazed by a beautiful show of light and music when you visit this Lower Manhattan mall during the holiday season. It's free to attend. 

  • Things to do
  • Events & Festivals

Inside a nondescript red brick warehouse just outside of New York City, the staff of American Christmas bring holiday magic to life. They're known for creating the renowned displays at Macy's, the Cartier mansion, Radio City Music Hall, the Rockefeller Center Channel Gardens and more.

Now, they're opening their doors to the public for a holiday extravaganza featuring 100,000 lights, 100 captivating animatronics and figurines in nine uniquely themed areas. Given their holiday decor expertise, this larger-than-life display is going to dazzle. Tickets are on sale here.

This is the third year that American Christmas has hosted its public Holiday Lane event, and this year promises to be bigger and brighter than ever. Twice the size of last year's display, this iteration of Holiday Lane at American Christmas begins with a chance to write a note to Santa. Then, meet some reindeer, visit a land of sugar plum fairies, peek into the elves' quarters and explore the icy beauty of the Arctic.

  • Things to do
  • Events & Festivals

Turns out, getting to the North Pole isn't so tough after all. "The Santa Clauses' Winter Wonderland," a portal to Santa Claus' hometown, has opened at The Rooftop at Pier 17 in the Seaport. 

Typically a concert venue, the rooftop has been transformed into an immersive holiday experience inspired by Disney's "The Santa Clauses." Expect hot cocoa, skating and plenty of fun photo opps.

Find all the fun at 89 South Street through January 7, 2024. Tickets start at $25/person. Most activities are hosted outdoors, so be sure to bundle up in your coziest winter attire. 

  • Things to do

An illuminated wonderland awaits you just an hour outside of NYC. LuminoCity is back and it's taken over Eisenhower Park in Long Island.

The immersive, outdoor holiday spectacular of light sculptures and art installations invites visitors to walk through 36 sparkling displays exploring this year's theme of "Wonder Journey." The theme celebrates the holiday season with an "Alice in Wonderland" twist. Encounter iconic scenes from the Wonderland Tea Party to the iconic butterfly seat and a life-sized Queen’s Castle where visitors can slide down the Queen of Heart’s massive slide.

Tickets are available through January 7, 2024; $34 for adults and $22 for kids. VIP tickets start at $63.

  • Things to do

The NYC Winter Lantern Festival is returning for the 2023 season with more than 1,000 handmade Chinese lanterns to illuminate the cold season.

Head to the Queens County Farm for this whimsical walk-through experience where dinosaurs, dragons, fish and birds glow in gorgeous colors. The farm transforms into a radiant oasis where each unique piece holds a story of its own that contextualizes the experience even more.

The festival runs on weekend evenings now through January 7, 2024. Tickets start at $26/adult.

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