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Dyker Heights christmas lights
Photograph: @rtanphoto/Rommel Tan

Best Christmas things to do in NYC for a magical time this holiday season

Make the most of the holidays with our list of Christmas things to do in NYC, including tree-lightings, classic holiday shows and festive bars.

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Written by
Rossilynne Skena Culgan
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Only with Queen Mariah’s blessing do we begin celebrating the holidays. In preparation, we’ve gathered the best things to do for Christmas and the holidays in NYC. From uptown to downtown, the city boasts holiday offerings like the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, light festivals, and the best holiday markets NYC has to offer. Whether you channel your inner grinch or cheery elf during NYC's most wonderful season, we've got you covered with memorable activities.

Check back for updates as we'll continue adding to the list as the holidays approach. 

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Christmas in NYC
RECOMMENDED: The best Christmas hotels in NYC

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Check out our Winter Village video: 

Top Christmas things to do in New York City

  • Things to do

The Rockefeller Center 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. 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.

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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-size 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 Thanksgiving 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!

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  • 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 beside the tree.

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

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

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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.

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  • Art
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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 is now on view 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.

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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.

It is also free to attend! All aboard!

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  • Restaurants
  • Drinking

Miracle on 9th Street and Sippin' Santa's decked-out editions will be popping up once again this holiday season.

In NYC, Miracle on 9th Street is now open at The Cabinet Mezcal Bar in the East Village. Meanwhile, Sippin’ Santa will take place this winter at Lower East Side neighborhood bar Thief as of November 22.

And as usual, the Miracle and Sippin' Santa holiday mug collections will also be making their return, with limited-edition glassware available for purchase exclusively at the pop-ups.

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NYC is packed with holiday markets every fall with holiday spirit and unique gifts. While fancy Christmas window displays may entice you, NYC's holiday markets offer a chance to shop local. With everything from clothing to holiday ornaments to artwork, there's something for everybody on your holiday shopping list.

Shopping for the perfect gift doesn't have to be stressful; make it fun at these holiday markets.

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  • Art
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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." 

A cast of characters joins the elephants, including woolly mammoths, dinosaurs, blue whales, butterflies, zebras, birds and many others representing iconic museum exhibits. 

Find the tree in the Ellen V. Futter Gallery on the first floor. Visiting the tree is included with museum admission.

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  • Events & Festivals

For the first time ever, Luna Park in Coney Island will be open during the winter for a new event called Frost Fest.

The park will be open on select dates through January 7 with legendary rides on site, a skating rink, holiday lights, shopping and Santa.

Tickets for the experience—offered on select weekdays and holidays, plus Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays—are now available here.

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  • Events & Festivals

Folks walking through Dante Park on Broadway and 64th Street on the Upper West Side will delight in a new immersive installation called "Magical Lights." Eight giant trees there have been adorned with hundreds of strands of resplendent hanging vines that react to the sounds and movements of the public.

When participating in one of the many scheduled singalongs, you'll basically activate the decor, with light dances and changing colors taking over the space to create a pretty surreal sensory experience.

The activation is presented by the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District as part of a slew of other holiday-related programs on site, including the annual WinteRamble on December 21. On that winter solstice, visitors will get to admire an illuminated community procession of Frost Giant puppets and icicle lanterns. You can check out the full program list right here

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  • 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. 

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  • Art
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The impressive gingerbread creations on view at the Seaport right now may look like any other saccharine Christmastime display, but they have a much deeper meaning. This gingerbread village offers a model for how our warming world can deal with climate change.

Fifty NYC architects and designers worked to create The Gingerbread City, and it's on view at The Seaport through January 7 with a lighthouse, a bridge, a stadium and lots more to discover. Tickets for the exhibition at 25 Fulton Street cost $18/adult and can be purchased here.

Designers used gingerbread, frosting and candy to create houses, train stations, bridges, airports, museums and parks on the theme “Water in Cities.” Participants were asked to think about how we can design and build water-sensitive cities and protect this vital resource.

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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. 

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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Every year, stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Macy's and Bloomingdale's create magical holiday window displays. Tourists aren't the only ones who can enjoy these festive showcases in Herald Square and Fifth Avenue—even for locals, they hold a dreamy nostalgia that only comes once a year.
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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Carroll Gardens
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Although many holiday pop-ups can skew goofy, Leyenda (more on the decorated end of the spectrum than the "immersive") is the real deal, year round. The Smith Street staple will deck its walls with darling garland varieties and fill glassware fashioned after Santas and other timely icons from November 25 to December 30. The season’s sippings include minty, frozen cachaça-based Candy Stripers and tequila-twisted Coquito Ho Ho Hos. 

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Head to the Bronx Little Italy to get into the holiday spirit. 

The tree lighting ceremony on Saturday, December 2, brings Santa, an elf, caroling, hot chocolate and Italian cookies to Ciccarone Park (at the intersection of East 188th Street and Arthur Avenue) from 4pm to 6pm.

Throughout the month of December (December 7-23), listen to carolers while shopping in the neighborhood for gourmet goods and presents. Whether stopping by local fish markets to prepare for The Feast of the Seven Fishes or picking up a gift basket for a loved one, the neighborhood offers countless butchers, bakers, delicatessens, pastry shops, specialty grocery stores, and more.

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See and be seen with illuminated reindeer, snowmen and oodles of other holiday accoutrement at Loreley Beer Garden’s Winter Wonderland installation. It’s decorated inside and out from now through January 7, with drink specials across its heated spaces like festive spiked eggnog, boozy black and white hot chocolate and gluhwein. 

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  • Things to do
  • Events & Festivals

The holiday decor experts at American Christmas have opened their doors to the public for a holiday extravaganza featuring 100,000 lights, 100 captivating animatronics and figurines in nine uniquely themed areas. This larger-than-life display is sure to dazzle. Tickets are on sale here for the experience just outside of NYC in Mt. Vernon.

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.

Finally, end the trip at an area called Santa's Take Off where Santa's sleigh gets ready for its journey around the world. Santa himself will even be there on select days.

Want to go ice-skating?

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