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Photograph: Courtesy New York Botanical Garden

12 things to do on Black Friday in NYC instead of shopping

Why buy more material stuff when you can put your hard-earned money toward a super-cool, NYC experience instead?

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Will Gleason
Written by
Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Will Gleason

As an epicenter for capitalism, Black Friday in NYC can be intense. All those stores! So many deals! And believe it or not, but people still go out to shop in person.

Instead of spending all your cash in a city where rent takes so much money anyway, we’ve come up with 12 foolproof things to do in NYC that are guaranteed to spark more joy than a cashmere sweater. Yes, even if it’s 50 percent off! Trust us—no discounts or deals can compare to the memories you’ll make at these New York attractions and top NYC art museums.

If you’re really itching to go shopping in NYC, we encourage you to resist the urge until Small Business Saturday so you can support the city’s independent shops.

Things to do on Black Friday besides shopping

  • Things to do

Opt outisde and lace up your skates on Black Friday. Ice skating in NYC is one of the city’s most beloved seasonal traditions. 

The iconic rink at Rockefeller Center and the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park are bursting with holiday cheer (and fab food and drinks), while low-key rinks at NYC parks offer a more chill experience.

  • Theater
  • Theater & Performance

From amazing costumes to Broadway history to fun photo opps, this long-awaited new museum is a must-see for theater buffs.  

You can expect the new museum to highlight over 500 individual productions from the 1700s all the way to the present. 

Among the standout offerings will also be a special exhibit dubbed "The Making of a Broadway Show," which honors the on- and off-stage community that helps bring plays and musicals to life multiple times a week.

  • Art
  • Art

The energy in INTER_, Manhattan’s newest art experience, feels more like a meditation retreat than a typical gallery—and that’s by design. 

The experiential, multi-sensory museum which opened in Soho on November 2, invites visitors into a heightened state of contemplative awareness through a sound bath, light installations and aspects of meditation all combined with interactive digital art. 

Here's a sneak peek inside the museum.

  • Things to do
  • Weird & Wonderful

The massive bows, angels, nutcrackers, lights and other festive decor that adorns New York City's most famous buildings comes together each year in a warehouse in Westchester County where hundreds of elves (ahem, employees) bring Christmas magic to life.

This year, you can peek inside the 110,000-square-foot warehouse of American Christmas, the company responsible for the beloved holiday decorations at Macy's, the Cartier mansion, Radio City Music Hall, the Rockefeller Center Channel Gardens and more. Plus, you can buy vintage decorations that once adorned iconic buildings, walk through larger-than-life displays in Santa's Village, explore several Dickens-themed photo opportunities and pose with 50 mesmerizing animatronics. 

See Santa's Village and the rest of the festivities at American Christmas, 30 Warren Place in Mount Vernon, from November 4 through December 24.

  • Art
  • Art

Explore the history of Salem without ever leaving NYC at the newly opened exhibit “The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming” at the New-York Historical Society. Handwritten letters, petitions of innocence from the accused and other rare documents bring to life the 300-year-old story of the Salem Witch Trials, shining a light on our country’s past and holding important lessons for today about injustice.

In addition to historic items, two contemporary artists who are descendants of the accused created reclamation projects.

Here's our take on seven must-see things at New-York Historical’s haunting Salem Witch Trials exhibit.

  • Art
  • Art

Here is something fun you can do this holiday season: spend some time smack-dab in the middle of ARTECHOUSE's new holiday art experience, titled "Spectacular Factory: The Holiday Multiverse."

Set to open to the public on November 19 through January 8, 2023, at Chelsea Market, the show will be an imaginative multiverse of holiday villages, where guests of all ages will get to take a spin on a candy cane carousel, get up-close-and-personal with a thousand nutcrackers, float among giant swinging jingle bells and even ride a train through holiday wreaths. Think of it as a holiday event on steroids.

Tickets for the experience are already on sale right here.

Tour the New York Botanical Garden
  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • The Bronx

Ditch the concrete jungle and head into nature at the New York Botanical Garden. The holiday train show is sure to delight kids of all ages. Watch model trains zip around miniature versions of the Statue of Liberty and Rockefeller Center made entirely out of natural materials. After dark, take in the garden’s light show—NYBG GLOW—a 1.5-mile colorful experience with thousands of energy-efficient LED lights and festive installations to ogle. It’s a photo opp, for sure! 

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Central Park

Make a post-Thanksgiving trip to the museum your new family tradition. Luckily, most museums open their doors on Friday, and the Met is a great choice for the whole family. There's something for everyone: your dad the history buff, pretentious cousin who insists on reminding everyone she went to art school and little brother who just wants to see the mummies. 

Still want to get a little holiday shopping done?

  • Shopping

Sometimes “things” won’t cut it for the person who has everything. When themed socks and evergreen-scented candles won’t cut it for gifts this holiday season, consider giving them an experience they can only have in New York City. Giving an experience is certainly more personalized and fulfilling and caters to your loved ones’ interests. You can book a tour that offers behind-the-scenes access to the top New York attractions for your history buff dad or snag tickets to the new Fotografiska museum for your art-loving bestie. Better yet: join them and share the experience together! And if you really can't resist wrapping something up, you can always pick up a few stocking stuffers.

RECOMMENDED: Best Christmas things to do in NYC

  • Shopping

Before you finish your last bite of Thanksgiving Turkey, Black Friday—NYC’s biggest shopping day of the year—will already be in full swing. Sure, some stores will remain closed out of respect for the holiday. But others are offering deals days in advance to offset the shipping delay madness.

If you’re a traditionalist and plan to shop in person the day after Thanksgiving, this list of stores will certainly have the deals and steals you’re jonesing for. For those willing to brave the crowds and the early hours for a shopping bonanza, look to these stores and start planning your route. (Might we suggest hitting the ones near the best coffee shops in NYC first?) If you don’t shop until you drop, check out some of the best things to do in NYC on Black Friday at major New York attractions.

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