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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 binging cookies and cheesy holiday movies

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Time Out New York contributors
&
Shaye Weaver
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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, check out one of the many restaurants delivering Christmas dinner or do some last-minute shopping at holiday markets in NYC that remain open on Christmas Eve. Pro tip: Haggle like you mean it; most are closing up shop for the season and it is the season of giving, isn’t it?

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Christmas in New York

Best things to do on Christmas Eve

  • Things to do

It's time to lace up your skates—the best ice skating rinks in NYC are waiting for you. As one of the most beloved cities to spend the holidays in, NYC has plenty of indoor and outdoor rinks where you can glide and practice your toe jumps. To help narrow down your options, we’ve ranked the top places to go, from the iconic Rink at Rockefeller Center or lower-key rinks at NYC parks like Central Park.

  • Things to do
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-sized 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 and experience one of the top things to do in NYC in the winter.
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  • Things to do
  • City Life

Brooklynites finally have their own holiday light show at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. For the first time in its history, the BBG is welcoming visitors between November 19 and January 9 to its very own light installation called "Lightscape," presented in partnership with Sony Music. Lightscape is not a Christmas-centric spectacle—it's a celebration of light that incorporates art and music that people from all cultures and beliefs can enjoy, especially as the days get shorter. The colorful light displays highlight the garden’s trees, landscapes and architecture with more than 18 distinct works of art, including a series of works by local artists in the Plant Family Collection. All in all, there are about one million lights featured in the show. Visitors can grab hot chocolate or apple cider to enjoy on their walk and can make their own s'mores. (The apple cider also comes spiked, if you so desire.)

 

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  • Attractions
  • Sightseeing
  • Midtown East

Summit One Vanderbilt sits atop the new 67-floor One Vanderbilt super-tall—a 1,401-foot-high—skyscraper. As the city's fourth-tallest building after One World Trade Center, Central Park Tower and 111 West 57th Street. After a trip through a mirrored hallway with its own immersive elements, visitors take an elevator up to the 91st floor, where they're 1,000 feet over the streets and sidewalks of NYC. Kenzo Digital has created a totally mirrored infinity room called "Air" that reflects the sky and city views over and over, making you feel like you're walking in the sky or on another plane of existence. Looking above you and below you in this two-story space, you see your reflection repeating forever. 

  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs

Bryant Park's Winter Village by Bank of America is back in NYC with holiday festivities and shopping and food at its holiday shops. Its 17,000-square-foot ice-skating rink that's free to use (if you bring your own skates) is always the highlight, but its Winter Village in all its holiday spirit is a close second. This year more than 170 kiosks will be there to peruse—all at one of the best NYC parks.

 

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  • 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 more iconic New York displays, such as in Central Park, Rockefeller Center and at Saks Fifth Avenue. Take it all in and 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.

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.

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  • Things to do
One of the best holiday attractions in NYC is its Christmas and holiday window displays at its department stores. 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. These ornate holiday windows decked out with hundreds of Christmas lights and more winter wonderland decor are so impressive, they can be reason enough to stroll through midtown. Just wait until after the majority of tourists have gone to bed to you can see up-close for yourself. For all the information you need to know about this year’s Christmas windows, read on...

Looking for more festive activities?

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