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Hudson Yards holiday lights
Photograph: Courtesy letsgochimi for Hudson Yards

The best things to do on Christmas Eve in NYC

We've found the best things to do on Christmas Eve in NYC—aside from eating cookies while watching cheesy holiday movies.

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Written by
Rossilynne Skena Culgan
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’Twas the night before Christmas and all through Gotham, New Yorkers were actually stirring. That’s right, there are still plenty of things to do on Christmas Eve in NYC.

Don’t just laze around your apartment watching Christmas movies (as fun as that sounds). Instead, admire seasonal light displays, see a show, or do some last-minute shopping at holiday markets in NYC that remain open on Christmas Eve. 

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Christmas in New York

Best things to do on Christmas Eve

  • 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-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.

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  • Things to do

Take a nostalgic stroll to the Rockefeller Tree on Christmas Eve. This tree is one of the top New York attractions to visit in person and is lit daily from 5am-midnight. On Christmas Day, the tree is lit for 24 hours.

This year's tree, selected from the Binghamton area, measures in at 80 feet tall! The gigantic Norway Spruce stretches 43 feet in diameter and weighs 12 tons. More than 50,000 multi-colored LED lights wrap around the towering tree. It's topped with a three-dimensional Swarovski star that weighs 900 pounds and sparkles with 3 million crystals. Architect Daniel Libeskind designed the stunning star in 2018.

  • 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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  • 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.

  • Things to do

Since New York City transforms into a magical wonderland with millions of holiday lights right after Thanksgiving, it's good to know where to find the best Christmas lights in NYC.

We'll see over-the-top inflatable Santas and reindeer found at the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights in Brooklyn to iconic Manhattan displays such as in Central Park, at Hudson Yards and at Washington Square Park.

Take it all in and get ready to “ooh” and “ahh” at these photo-worthy landmarks, holiday markets and neighborhoods that create the most picturesque holiday light displays during the holiday season.

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  • Things to do

Cruise around Manhattan on a yacht decked out for the holidays with Classic Harbor Line's themed cruises. The mahogany-trimmed 1920s-style Manhattan II and Northern Lights motor yachts are trimmed in seasonal decor and ready to sail.

Tour offerings include a holiday brunch cruise, a holiday lights tour, a holiday jazz cruise with a live band, and a carols cruise with traditional hymns. Prices range from $106-$148/adult, depending on the tour option.

No matter which cruise you pick, you'll be treated to spectacular skyline views within the glass observatory of the yachts. Don't worry, the boats are heated, so you can enjoy the view without the chill. If you want to brave the winter air, guests are welcome to venture to the open bow for truly sweeping city views. 

Each group gets their own elegant table where you can enjoy the cruise with your loved ones and take plenty of photos. A mug of hot chocolate is included with each ticket, spiked if desired, with additional beverages available for purchase.

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  • 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 and will be open on Christmas Eve. 

Each year, the garden becomes a mini-train depot with its collection of 25 G-scale model trains that’ll chug along a nearly half-mile track by 190 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.

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  • 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.

  • 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.

 

 

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  • Things to do

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is bringing back its gorgeous, after-dark illuminated spectacular to its grounds this winter, including on Christmas Eve.

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.   

  • Restaurants
  • Eating

Make the holiday a little sweeter at Swedish candy paradise BonBon, which is open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for last-minute gifts (or just to treat yourself). 

Find BonBon at three locations in NYC: The Upper East Side, Lower East Side and Williamsburg. Each shop brings its own flavor and flair, but they're all dedicated to serving up glorious goodies gorgeously wrapped in pastel pink bags and boxes. All the candies are imported directly from Sweden.

Expect to find chocolates, gummy candies and licorice fill the jewel box shop from floor to ceiling, all neatly arranged on custom-made wooden shelving.

Looking for more festive activities?

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