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Photograph: @rtanphoto/Rommel Tan

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

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
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With Queen Mariah's blessing to begin celebrating the holidays, we've begun gathering 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 activities.  

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Christmas in NYC

Check out our Winter Village video: 

Best Christmas things to do in NYC

  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs

Each fall, the Winter Village at Bryant Park returns in all its holiday glory. On the grounds you can peruse about 60 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 free, 17,000-square-foot ice-skating rink and then fill up at the rinkside pop-up restaurant called The Lodge Deck for festive cocktails and hearty food.

Go on a holiday lights tour.

  • Things to do
  • The Bronx

Let it GLOW at the New York Botanical Garden this year at its second 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 this expanded 1.5-mile colorful experience with even more illuminated displays than last year, including plant stories, and whimsical, picture-perfect installations reflecting 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 op. Plus, there will be dance performances, ice carving demonstrations and other seasonal activities (and snacks) to enjoy. Tickets, which can be paired with Holiday Train Show tickets for a little bit more money, are on sale now. Learn more about the new safety measures online. All ages. 

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  • Things to do
  • City Life

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is bringing a gorgeous, new after-dark illuminated spectacular to its grounds in November.  Between November 19 and January 9, visitors to BBG will be able to walk through the Cathedral of Light tunnel, a Fire Garden on Lily Pool Terrace, a Field of Light and an animated light installation covering Cherry Esplanade (and visible from the Robert W. Wilson Overlook). Colorful light displays highlighting the garden’s trees, landscapes, and architecture with more than 18 distinct works of light art and a series of light-based artworks by local artists will be installed in the Plant Family Collection. "Lightscape" is coming to BBG in partnership with Sony Music. It was launched at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London in 2014 and has sold out year after year across the U.K. and in Chicago. This is currently the only East Coast Lightscape (lucky, us!).

  • Attractions
  • The Bronx

The Bronx Zoo’s sparkling seasonal celebration featuring animated lights and LED displays of animals from around the world is back this year. Expect the zoo to have close to 260 animal lanterns across five geographically representative lantern safaris from various corners of the world. This year are 79 new lanterns representing 30 new animal species, including an all-new walrus and guanacos! Not only that, but there will be a Forest of Color with 21 all-new larger-than-life lanterns representing toads, frogs, snails, sunbirds, turtles, moths, butterflies, and more. Entertainment will include holiday-themed music, ice carvings, costumed characters, stilt walkers, a holiday train, a wildlife theater, souvenirs and seasonal treats like hot chocolate and s’mores. 

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  • Things to do
  • price 2 of 4

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. 

  • Things to do
  • City Life

Fifth Avenue's Pulitzer Fountain has transformed into a winter wonderland for the holiday season. The Fifth Avenue Association unveiled its "The Fifth Season" installation featuring 32 hand-crafted animal sculptures by Harlequin Designs in Brooklyn, 5,000 feet of lighting, a skating rink and 24 handmade icebergs surrounding the Pulitzer Fountain, all accompanied by music from composer Paul Brill. The installation builds on last year’s "Make It Bright" series of glowing oversized toys, including a teddy bear, dreidel and red truck adorning Fifth Avenue from 47th to 60th Streets. 

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  • Things to do
  • Midtown West

The Paley Center for Media is reopening in a festive way—with its classic holiday extravaganza, PaleyLand, beginning December 4. At PaleyLand, visitors can watch exclusive holiday screenings and meet beloved characters from notable holiday classics, see a live holiday-themed LEGO demo from LEGOMasters, take photos with Santa and a stunning 7-foot menorah, play their favorite video games, and enjoy the newest centerpiece, The Paley Express holiday train display, and more. 

"We are so thrilled to be bringing our friends, families, and Paley Members together once again with the grand reopening of our Paley Museum, and the return of our beloved PaleyLand, during this magical time of year,” said Maureen J. Reidy, President and CEO of the Paley Center. “Just steps from the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and Radio City Music Hall, Paleyland has taken its place as a must-visit, favorite, New York holiday tradition. We are delighted to welcome visitors this holiday season and throughout all of 2022 for an exciting lineup of special events, exhibits and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”

Enjoy a night of carols and classics like "It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," "I’ll Be Home for Christmas," "Winter
Wonderland,' "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "O, Holy Night" with the New York Pops and Tony Award winner Laura Benanti on December 17 (8pm) at Carnegie Hall. "This holiday concert is a homecoming for our entire New York Pops family—our musicians, PopsEd students, subscribers and donors—and I'm so glad we get to celebrate our return with the incomparable Laura Benanti," said New York Pops Music Director and Conductor Steven Reineke. "I can't wait to see
you there!"

Tickets are available for purchase at the Carnegie Hall Box Office, at 57th and Seventh, or can be charged to major credit cards by calling CarnegieCharge at (212) 247-7800 or by visiting the Carnegie Hall website at carnegiehall.org.

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  • Things to do
  • City Life

The NYC Winter Lantern Festival is returning for the 2021 season with three major events that will help illuminate the cold season! There's currently a drive-through experience at the Nassau County Museum of Art calle d"A Bug’s Night" that lets you navigate across over 20 acres of vivid lanterns and holiday lights. There's also an escape at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island. The botanic garden will be illuminated for over eight acres. In addition to the lantern display, a live DJ, projection mapping, food vendors, and more will keep the party going. This kicks off on Thanksgiving, which lands on November 25 this year. Queens County Farm will also be a radiant oasis with a dazzling display of holiday lights and handmade lanterns in the shape of flowers, tractors, farm animals and much more. 

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  • Things to do

New York City transforms into a magical wonderland with millions of holiday lights right after Thanksgiving, giving us over-the-top inflatable Santas and reindeer found at the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights in Brooklyn to more iconic New York displays, such as in Central Park, Rockefeller Center and at Saks Fifth Avenue. Get ready to “ooh” and “ahh” at these landmarks, holiday markets and neighborhoods that create the most picturesque holiday light displays during the holiday season.

See the Dyker Heights lights on a holiday bus tour.

  • 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.

Be dazzled by holiday lights during a 45-minute walking tour.

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  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • The Bronx

The beloved New York holiday train tradition at the New York Botanical Garden is back for its 30th year!

The garden will become a mini-train depot with its collection of 25 G-scale model trains that'll chug along a nearly half-mile track (which is also overhead) by 175 miniature NYC 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. 

Tickets are on sale now for the show, which begins November 20.

  • Things to do
  • Long Island

An illuminated wonderland awaits you just 45 minutes outside of NYC! LuminoCity is back and it's taken over Whitney Pond Park on Long Island.

The immersive, outdoor holiday spectacular of light sculptures and art installations first touched down in 2019, and proved its place as a must-see light show in the city on Randall's Island.

Now on Long Island, visitors to the festival will take a 45-minute walking, narrative journey, with twinkling and towering LED sculptures along the way that will play to the overall theme of "Shine Again." The light art displays are inspired by the power and warmth of light overcoming the darkness and are a celebration of cultures and the world around us.

Lumi, the LuminoCity mascot, will guide the immersive outdoor event, which also includes the all-new "Lumi’s Utopia" and "Lumi’s Friends" exhibit. Lumi’s Utopia features artwork from six young artists. They were asked to illustrate 2D art designs of their favorite gifts and have been be brought to life as large 3D light-art sculptures.

For the upcoming holiday season, LuminoCity will run now through January 9. A limited number of tickets will be available for each designated time slot throughout the festival to keep to a strict capacity. Tickets must be purchased in advance online here. General admission tickets run $22 to $76. 

 

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  • Theater
  • Musicals

Betsy Wolfe (Waitress) plays the title character, a Wall Street predator who just might have a thing or two to learn about the Christmas spirit, in an original holiday musical by Paul Gordon (Jane Eyre) and director John Caird (Les Misérables). The project was shot remotely during the pandemic, using green screens and other technological workarounds. The cast of Broadway pros also includes Clifton Duncan, Lauren Patten, Carolee Carmello, Patrick Page and—as Estella’s famous ancestor Ebenezer—the beloved Danny Burstein. The show lifts characters and story ideas from several Dickens works beyond its principal source, A Christmas Carol. Tickets cost $25 for a three-day rental.

  • Theater
  • Drama
  • Noho

John Kevin Jones goes to the Dickens in this one-hour account of the novelist's classic holiday ghost story, adapted with director Rhonda Dodd. The Merchant's House Museum, formerly the home of a wealthy 19th-century family, provides an atmospheric candlelit setting for Jones's ninth annual engagement. Performances on Fridays and Saturdays (and from December 21 though 28) include a postshow reception at which the audience sips mulled wine and Jones recites Clement Moore's “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

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  • Theater
  • Circuses & magic
  • Midtown West

The mammoth Québécois neocirque troupe presents its first holiday-themed production, an extended riff on Clement Clarke Moore's 1823 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Writer-director James Hadley's show follows a young girl who is yanked, on Christmas Eve, into a magical world where acrobatics and elaborate spectacle take the place of those boring old dancing sugar plums. 

  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • Midtown West

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. 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. And what legs! In the signature kick line that finds its way into most of the big dance numbers, the Rockettes’ 36 flawless pairs of gams 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.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular

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  • Restaurants
  • Drinking

We've got a whole list of warm cocktails to enjoy around town, but the new offerings at Loreley Beer Garden go one step further: not only are they warm and delicious, but they truly look (and taste!) like the holidays. The festive cocktails can be enjoyed inside the Rivington Street destination or while seated in the outdoor heated beer garden (which is one of the largest in Manhattan!) The pictures of the drinks clearly do the talking, but we've got to mention some details. The new menu includes a delicious bourbon hot chocolate that is topped with torched marshmallows, a spiced eggnog and—the crème de la crème—a gluhwein, which is actually the bar's signature mulled wine.

  • Theater
  • Musicals

Two of Drag Race's most legendary dames serve nog till you gag in this virtual edition of their now-annual holiday camp fest. The plot of the hour-long spectacular finds the queens at odds over the direction of a Christmas TV special they are creating together. Expect plenty of musical comedy and spiked punchlines. Two-day rentals cost $14.

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  • Theater
  • Drama
  • Hell's Kitchen

Bah humbug, my dear Watson! Writer-director Mark Shanahan combines the worlds of Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle in a holiday play that imagines Sherlock Holmes investigating the mysterious demise of reformed skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge, at the behest of a no-longer-tiny Tim. Drew McVety and Thom Sesma lead a cast that also features Dan Domingues, Anissa Felix, Isabel Keating and Mark Price.

Broadway Inspirational Voices is holding its annual holiday concert on Monday, December 6 at 7pm at Peter Norton Symphony Space in NYC. It'll be presented as a two-part celebration concert—featuring Broadway Inspirational Voices’ favorite songs from their holiday albums "Great Joy" and "Great Joy: Around the World and Part Two." Tickets are $35-$125.

In 1994, Broadway Inspirational Voices (BIV) played its inaugural concert for a heartbroken, mourning community, and offered a soulful concert, intended to respond to and help heal the damaging winds of the AIDS epidemic. In the audience that night were people of all backgrounds, races, identities, and faiths.

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  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • Midtown West

Increasingly, the world seems polarized into two factions who can barely understand each other, much less find common ground: those who cherish the 2003 romantic comedy Love Actually, which tracks multiple characters through the holiday season in London, and those who recognize it as the extremely terrible garbage that it is. This musical spoof—by Bob and Tobly Smith, the brothers behind pervious musical parodies of FriendsThe OfficeSaved by the Bell and other cultural touchstones—aims to appeal to both camps. 

  • Dance
  • Ballet
  • Upper West Side

This magical 1954 production, set to Tchaikovsky's incredible score, includes the full New York City Ballet company and two casts of School of American Ballet students, as well as an onstage blizzard and a Christmas tree that grows from 12 to 40 feet. In the end, however, Balanchine's choreography is what holds it all together. It's enchanting.

Note: Tickets go on sale to the general public on October 11, 2021.

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  • Things to do
  • Astoria

You can see the Grinch come to life at the Museum of the Moving Image this holiday season. "A Wonderful, Awful Idea" features 40 sketches, animation cels and backgrounds from the extensive private collection of animation enthusiasts Bill Heeter and Kristi Correa and show what it was like adapting Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Instead of the black, white and red palatte used in the original book from 1957, animation director Chuck Jones used vivid colors in the film as well as "unparalleled character animation and comic timing, creating an utterly believable, villainous—but ultimately redeemed—Grinch that became the standard for all subsequent adaptations," MoMI says.

  • Things to do
  • Soho

The Museum of Ice Cream is turning pink for the holidays during "Pinkmas." 

From November 18 to January 9, its 13 multi-sensory installations will burst with snowflakes, candy canes, pink trees, interactive moments, from crafting ornaments and decorating the MOIC trees, to tasting sweet treats that celebrate the season’s festive spirit. You can also hunt for the candy cane sprinkle hidden in MOIC NYC’s world-famous Sprinkle Pool for a special surprise and sing along to carols. Guests are encouraged to bring in new toys for Toys For Tots in exchange for a scoop of ice cream and encouraged to come dressed in their pinkest Pinkmas attire. 

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Spend your Christmas Eve in a festive and memorable way—with a dinner cruise aboard Circle Line. The Christmas Eve Dinner Cruise serves up an Italian-style buffet dinner with Chicken Parmigiana, Eggplant Rollatini, Antipasti, and Caprese Salad, and with a plethora of desserts. There will also a standard open bar pouring beer, wine, cocktails and more, and a DJ spinning everyone’s favorite holiday tunes. There will also be a piano player and singer to lead you in Christmas carols as you float along NYC's waterways. $199 per person includes buffet dinner, standard open bar, beer, wine, soft drinks. Children under 12 are $179. Children under 3 are free.

 

One cruise only, Friday, December 24, 2021, sailing in rain, snow or moonlight, as necessary. Tickets: Adults $199; children ages 3-12, $179; children under 3 are free. Boarding at 6:30pm, departure at 7pm from Pier 83 in Midtown; 2.5 hours total, returns at 9:30pm. All passengers must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

  • Restaurants
  • Drinking

City Winery's winter pop-up at Rockefeller Center is back for the season. Overlooking the wonderful new Rockefeller Christmas tree—a 79-foot-tall beauty hailing from, for the first time ever, Maryland—the heated domes seat up to eight guests at once and offer full-service dining inside. You'll also be able to warm up with the mulled wine, spiked cider and hot chocolate on offer alongside City Winery's iconic menu of signature wines on tap and snacks. Food-wise, we suggest you order some hummus, of course, but also try the Greek couscous salad and the ciliegine mozzarella and pesto tomato salad. Consider the outing the perfect pre-game before a lavish meal at one of the best restaurants in New York, perhaps?  All igloos require a reservation, which you can make right here. The staff will completely sanitize the space with an electromagnetic fogger before your 90-minute private session, of course.

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Get into Santa's speakeasy this holiday season that'll surprise you with six immersive holiday installations, Christmas cocktails and a jaw-dropping variety show with ballet, burlesque and more unique acts. Opening December 1 at the Shops at Hudson Yards, it'll be open Thursdays to Sundays 6-8pm and 9-11pm (with entry at 6pm, 6:15pm, 6:30pm 6:45pm and 9pm, 9:15pm, 9:30pm and 9:45pm). Tickets are $47-$75 per person.

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  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Hell's Kitchen

Divisive charity-focused bar crawl SantaCon is officially coming back on December 11 beginning at 10am EST. This year, a $13 donation will get you into all venues throughout the day. A list of participating locations—which will all require proof of vaccination for entry—will be announced the night before. Check the event's official website and Twitter account for the most up-to-date announcements. As usual, please remember that just because you're wearing a Santa suit, it doesn't mean that all bars want you be celebrating inside. 

Want to go ice-skating?

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