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Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree 2013
Photograph: Filip Wolak Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Best Christmas things to do in NYC

Make the most of the holidays with our list of Christmas things to do in NYC, including tree-lightings, gigs and more

By Tim Lowery, Jennifer Picht and Collier Sutter
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It's almost the merriest time of year and there are so many Christmas things to do in NYC to put on your list of festivities. 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 activities.  

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Christmas in NYC

Check out our Winter Village video: 

Best Christmas things to do in NYC

Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes
Photograph: Paul Kolnik for MSG Entertainment

1. Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes

Theater Musicals

You’ll get a kick out of this holiday stalwart, which still features Santa, wooden soldiers and the leggy, 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. Whatever faults one may find with this awesomely lavish annual pageant—it's basically a celebration of the virtues of shopping—this show has legs. 

Photograph: Courtesy Magical Winter Lights

2. LuminoCity

News Events & Festivals

The holidays in New York look pretty much like a glowing wonderland. From the iconic Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting to all of the showstopper storefronts worth oohing and ahhing over—the city is lit. And this winter, there’s a brand new must-see experience to add to your usual holiday rotation, a massive immersive lights festival on Randalls Island called LuminoCity. LuminoCity Festival, which runs from November 23 to January 5, will be a holiday-obsessed folk's paradise. Picture 12-acres covered with glorious (and massive) LED art installations. While adventuring around the festival, you’ll want to have your camera ready for things like a giant glowing donut tunnel. You'll also be able to climb to the top of an illuminated castle in the sky and then glide back down via its tall slide.  Magical Winter Lights If you’re a fan of the board game Candy Land or anything Willy Wonka-related, then the sweets forest in the festival is most definitely your scene. There you'll find both a 22-foot-tall technicolor tree and a candy mountain with a surrounding rainbow field of candies, covered in lights and set to change color. You can also expect to pass things like a glowing unicorn, a fluorescent mushroom forest and a rainforest with animal light sculptures on the grounds. 

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nutcracker rouge
Photograph: Courtesy Company XIV/Mark Shelby Perry

3. Nutcracker Rouge

Things to do Performances

Company XIV returns with its ribald spin on Tchaikovsky, a dazzling spectacle featuring a top-tier cast of opera singers, aerialists, circus performers and burlesque artists. Keep an eye out for whoever (and whatever) comes crawling out from under Mother Ginger’s dress.

4. Holiday Window Displays

Things to do

The city is filled with elaborate decorations and events, like the extravagant Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree or the many ice-skating spots. But if New York is famous for anything around Christmas time, it might just be its ornate holiday window displays. As always, stores like Barneys, Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and more join in to show off their holiday spirit and latest merchandise.

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migrate.36718.jpg
Photograph: Courtesy Liberty Films Inc/RKO Radio Pictures

5. It's a Wonderful Life

5 out of 5 stars
Movies Drama

The only Yuletide favorite to pivot around an attempted suicide, Capra’s post-war fable is a fascinating melange of social and personal impulses and the questionable charms of home. James Stewart is impeccable as George Bailey, the Bedford Falls boy-next-door whose dreams are continually deferred by the demands of family and national upset: Rather than exploring and building new worlds, he runs a building society, marries and raises children. Mapping his frustrations and joys onto the contours of recent US history, It’s a Wonderful Life puts individual and group interests in tension. Denied the opportunities for individualist enterprise that are the stock in trade of American cinematic heroism, George is pulled towards communal effort and self-effacement. Yet the film’s bravura fantasy sequence, imagining the hellishly licentious Bedford Falls that would exist without George, makes the grandest possible case for the importance and uniqueness of individual agency—Battleship Potemkin this ain’t. Funny, compelling and moving.

IFC Center, West Village (ifccenter.com). $16. Dec 6–25.

best christmas lights nyc
Photograph: Filip Wolak

6. The Rockefeller Christmas Tree

Things to do

The Rockefeller Christmas Tree (NYC’s pride and joy) is a beaming and brilliant symbol of the holiday season. Tourists and even native New Yorkers sure do love this Norway spruce. The trees change, but the annual sense of wonder remains the same. A chance to see the tree light up for the first time this year is well worth fighting the crowds. Read more about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting including this year's set of performers during the ceremony. 

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Photograph: Teddy Wolff

7. Dyker Heights Holiday Lights

Things to do

Dyker Heights residents take the holidays very seriously: The houses in this nabe are decked out with thousands of lights, life-size toy soldiers, inflatable Santas and more. Take in all the best displays on this 3.5-hour bus tour. 

Viator

8. Christmas Walking Tour

Things to do Walks and tours

Take in some of the city's most beautiful holiday decorations on this one-hour trek. After scoping out the tree at Rockefeller Center, you'll make your way toward iconic Radio City Music Hall and other sights.

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Blossoming Hot Chocolate at Dominique Ansel Bakery
Photograph: Courtesy Dominique Ansel Bakery

9. Have a Blossoming Hot Chocolate at Dominique Ansel Bakery

It should be no surprise that mad dessert scientist Ansel has added a touch of whimsy to his hot chocolate. The heat from the drink causes a marshmallow “bulb” to slowly unfold into a beautiful flower with a truffle treat at its center.

Various locations (dominiqueansel.com). $7.

Bryant Park Winter Village
Photograph: Courtesy Angelito Jusay

10. Bryant Park Winter Village

Things to do Markets and fairs

Out of all the things to do in the fall in NYC, no other event or holiday market receives as much hype as the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park. Why? Because once the 17,000-square-foot ice-skating rink and more than 170 shopping kiosks and food vendors open for business, this means that Christmas in New York has officially arrived.

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Snowday in Brooklyn
Photograph: Courtesy Sunday In Brooklyn/Eric Medsker

11. Have a drink at Snowday in Brooklyn

Sunday in Brooklyn’s bar pop-up  boasts yuletide drinks—the Ski Lift, a concoction of coffee, bourbon and gingerbread cream, is delightfully sweet—and the decor screams cuddly winter watering hole.

Williamsburg (sundayinbrooklyn.com).
Through end of December.

Photograph: Courtesy Picasa/Central Par

12. Central Park Holiday Lighting

Things to do

It just wouldn’t be the holidays if the city weren’t using up enough electricity in a month to power a small country for a decade. For more than 20 years, the Central Park Conservancy has been draping the Charles A. Dana Center in holiday lights and ringing in the season alongside a hot-cocoa-bearing Santa. Families can listen or open a songbook to join in with the Mistletones for some holiday carols. Ice carvers from Okamoto Studios will be carving a nutcracker and a polar bear on site and everyone can watch while they much on some cookies and cocoa.

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Holiday Markets
Photograph: Erin Kestenbaum

13. Holiday Markets

Shopping

If department stores with their holiday windows leave you cold, spend your winter at a holiday market. NYC’s best holiday shopping spots have everything from ice skating to vintage goods for one-of-a-kind presents. 

A Christmas Carol at the Merchant's House
Photograph: Joey Stocks

14. A Christmas Carol at the Merchant's House

Theater Drama

In late 1867, Charles Dickens trekked across the Atlantic to spend a month performing his Christmas classic here in NYC. The Merchant’s House Museum reenacts this one-hour performance for modern-day audiences in its old-fashioned museum. If you think A Christmas Carol is enchanting now, just wait until you see it performed by candlelight in a 19th-century home by an actor playing the part of the British author. (Bonus: Come early for mulled wine and tasty snacks!)

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15. Dinner at Rolf’s Restaurant

Restaurants Austrian Gramercy

This place takes the holidays to the extreme by stringing up thousands of lights, ornaments and garlands throughout its snug interior. Marvel at all the shiny things, then indulge in some hearty sausages and German brews.

Want to go ice-skating?

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